By Gregory Shtraks and Andrew Polk
A day before the meeting of G20 leaders was set to begin in London, U.S.President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met to discuss the increasingly important relations between the two countries. One key result of the meeting was the announcement of a "‘new' U.S.- China Strategic and Economic Dialogue" which will begin in Washington in a few months.
As opposed to the Bush administration's "Strategic Economic Dialogue" started by former Treasury Secretary Paulson, these meetings will have two distinct facets and will be lead by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on the U.S. side. With two well-known American leaders heading up the effort, here's a look at their Chinese counterparts:
Dai Bingguo makes almost a perfect synthesis of the two: He is a high-profile heavy-hitter like Clinton and seasoned bureaucrat like Geithner. Dai's career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stretches back to 1974, with brief interruptions in posts as an ambassador and as Head of the International Department for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Just as Hillary Clinton is the chief representative of the Obama administration's attempt to remake the U.S. reputation, Dai is often considered the international face of China's growing clout and increasingly pervasive charm offensive. In 2003, Evan Medeiros, writing in Foreign Affairs noted Dai as a leader in the country's growing sophistication in diplomatic affairs, as he deftly handled China's North Korea stance. He has also matched Clinton's hectic traveling schedule of late, making stops throughout Southeast Asia and Latin America. According to this Financial Times article from February, he seems to be a pretty smooth operator:
It takes quite a lot to throw Hillary Clinton off her stride, but Dai Bingguo, China's senior foreign policy official, just about managed. "You look younger and more beautiful than on TV," he told the US secretary of state, who seemed to momentarily blush.
Tim Geithner' understanding of Asia might pay prove useful in the discussion. Geithner completed high school in Bangkok (where his father Peter was director of Ford Foundation's Asia division) and then focused on Asian economics for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He is even said to speak decent Chinese and Japanese.
Geithner's counterpart in the Economic Dialogue, Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, also had some family help early in his career. During the Cultural Revolution Wang was sent to work as an "educated youth" in remote Shaanxi province and would have probably missed his chance at getting an education if not for the influence of his father-in-law, conservative Party leader Yao Yilin, who helped young Wang get accepted into a university. Wang is thus considered to be a "Princeling"- a cadre whose career had been accelerated by a family member who was a high-ranking member of the CCP.
However, unlike other Princelings, Wang is widely respected by both the Party and the general public. He is known as "Chief of the Fire Brigades" for his role in effectively managing the SARS crisis as Beijing's mayor in 2003. Meanwhile, his reputation for economic prowess and steadfastness was cemented by his role in managing Guangdong's financial scandals in the late 1990's. He also spent a number of years conducting agricultural reforms and over a decade heading China's Construction Bank. The 59-year-old was elevated to the Politburo of the Chinese People's Congress Central Committee (CPCCC) in 2008.
With the Chinese-US relationship widely being seen as crucial to global financial stability, the stakes for the success of the dialogue for all parties involved couldn't be any higher.