The first state visit to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao is all about window-dressing and little about substance. Sure, some $45-billion (U.S) worth of deals have been announced, including $19-billion for 200 new Boeing aircraft, an extremely important transaction. But the purchases and promises of further investment were all worked out well in advance, as is typical in such cases. President Hu brought similar goodies with him on a recent swing through Europe.
It was no coincidence that the yuan hit a record high against the greenback Wednesday. Or that Beijing recently allowed the yuan to be used by Chinese firms for foreign investments and for Americans to hold yuan accounts, which are now available from the Bank of China at its New York and Los Angeles branches.
But after the last toasts have been drunk and the presidential entourage departs, China’s manipulated currency will remain artificially low; the U.S. trade deficit will be as high as ever, and critics will still be screaming for sanctions to put more pressure on the Chinese -- which would cause far more grief for Washington than for Beijing.
That does not mean such visits, with all their requisite pomp and ceremony, are not useful. These are the world’s two largest and most important economies. It’s essential that they keep talking to each other, and that the Chinese are reminded regularly that with global power comes global responsibility.
The Americans also need reminding that while publicly attacking China’s currency policies makes for good domestic politics, even a doubling of the yuan’s value would do next to nothing for the U.S. recovery, while triggering enormous risks for the Chinese at home.
The fact is that no matter what China does on the currency front, those lost U.S. manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back. U.S. exports aren’t going to suddenly take off. And more expensive Chinese imports could actually hurt American consumers, who remain the key drivers in the post-industrial economy the Americans have engineered for themselves.