China Beat Archive



Robert A. Kapp

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August 31, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright August 31, 2009 Robert A. Kapp. Used by permission.


After Barack Obama’s inauguration, we ran a series at China Beat of various China experts’ reading recommendations for Obama on China (See installments I, II, III,IV, V, VI). At the time, we assumed a trip to China would be one of Obama’s top priorities–as is now clear with last week’s announcement that Obama will visit China in November 2009. So we sent out a few emails to China watchers from a variety of backgrounds, asking if they had advice for Obama as he prepares for the summit in Beijing. Here, the first installment from Robert A. Kapp, former president of the U.S.-China Business Council.

Dear Mr. President,

As a (perhaps the least prominent) member of your Asia Foreign Policy Group during the campaign, I am thrilled that you are soon headed for China. If your trip is, for you, anything like my trip was for me (albeit more than 32 years ago), you will be fascinated, impressed, and perhaps sobered at how much there is to see and know and how little time you have to accomplish all that you might want to.

Here are a few random tips on how to make your visit most successful; from what I have seen of you as president, most of the things I offer have long since come naturally to you anyway, and your personal grace and dignity, as well as your intellect and grasp of issues, will prove the guarantors of your successful visit. Still, here are a few thoughts.

1. Make a point of listening attentively. The pace of high-level meetings can be slow; don’t try to force it by pushing ahead before your counterpart has finished. If you do not fully understand, in translation, something your host has said to you, ask for clarification. Allow time for silence between deliveries. Sometimes the Chinese waits for a while to be sure that the American visitor has finished his remarks; unable to tolerate the silent interval, the American starts talking again. Let things settle in any back-and-forth.