Thursday, April 15, 2010

President Obama Bows to China’s President Hu at the Nuclear Security Summit

Critics of President Obama, conservative pundits and intellectuals, decry his bowing to third world oligarches and dictators. They say it shows weakness, not strength, encouraging such leaders as Iran’s Ahmadinejad to disregard U.S. warnings about Iran’s nuclear program.

Perhaps Obama believes he is being courteous, thereby rectifying eight years of perceived Bush swagger in dealing with foreign leaders that he thinks has alienated our allies and deeply offended those with whom we have to negotiate.

Culture influences the interpretation of pictures. Among Chinese, bowing to the supreme Chinese leader is redolent of China’s imperial past when foreign dignitaries kowtowed (bowed nine times) to the emperor when appearing in court. Kowtowing was seen as a sign of deference, great respect, and submission to the emperor’s place at the center of the world.

Millions of Chinese saw the leader of the U.S. show great deference to the leader of China. This may or may not have been President Obama’s objective, but that was how it was perceived in China. More so since President Hu made no firm commitment to imposing meaningful sanctions on Iran and revaluing China’s currency.

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