President Hu Jintao, of China, has been rightly feted in the United States as the leader of a nation of rapidly expanding power and influence. Beijing and Washington now have great global reach. Washington and Chicago have rolled out particularly wide and rich red carpets for our guests.
The red, however, is only distantly related to the banners of traditional revolutionary communism. Meetings have been dominated by concerns of commerce and capitalism. President Barack Obama emphasized that the visit should increase U.S. exports to China by about $45 billion, in turn supporting 235,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States.
In Chicago, senior corporate and political leaders have made a sustained effort to attract commercial partners in China. Aircraft giant Boeing, which has its corporate fleet based at Gary/Chicago International Airport, said airplane manufacturing contracts resulting from this visit will total an estimated $19 billion.
Hu's visit symbolizes truly revolutionary economic change in China, with powerful political significance. Six decades ago, the new communist People's Republic led by Mao Zedong was proclaimed on the mainland of China. Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek and the routed remnants of his army fled to Taiwan.
On the other side of the world, what Winston Churchill aptly termed the Iron Curtain had descended across Europe. Allied cooperation of World War II had disintegrated.
In late June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and a bitter and bloody war ensued. Washington, which had implicitly written off Taiwan along with mainland China, became forcefully committed to the defense of the offshore redoubt. China's military intervention in Korea brought direct combat with American troops. The Cold War became a global conflict.
In the United States, anti-Red hysteria dominated our politics for a time. Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, of Wisconsin, became principal leader of a coalition of ideologues and opportunists who fed the atmosphere of fear. This historical context is easily overlooked in our post-Cold War preoccupation with economic profits and, recently, losses.
In 1992, China's leader Deng Xiaoping declared the importance of "people's socialism" and made a series of coordinated moves to open the economy to entrepreneurship and private investment. Deng's personal prestige and excellent timing sparked national economic transformation.
Yet China still is relatively closed, with harsh penalties the price of going too far from communist orthodoxy. The human rights record of Beijing remains demonstrably deficient. Our national self-interest argues for expanding cooperation with China in trade and investment. Our principles require opposing human rights abuses.
We should press on both fronts, and also reinforce the expanding economic role of democratic Taiwan, but do so indirectly. Taiwan has become banker for the industrial revolution on the mainland. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between China and Taiwan, signed last year, represents extraordinary opening of markets.
Overtly offending China's leaders would be counterproductive; a more open economy escalates pressure for human rights reform. Obama's statement welcoming Hu, which included the importance of human rights, set the right tone. China's imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo was refused permission to attend the Oslo ceremony last month to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. His empty chair testified eloquently regarding the dark side of contemporary China.
A patient, indirect approach was the hallmark of ancient China's strategist Sun Tzu. We should emulate his insights; events are moving our way.
Arthur I. Cyr, Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.