Obama and Hu: What we heard
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November has witnessed two great nations—democratic USA and communist China—in transition. The re-election of Barack Obama in the United States signals continuity in a country that is in desperate anticipation of change. After ten years at the helm, Hu Jintao's retirement as the general secretary of the communist party of China (he will relinquish presidency in March 2013), marks change in a country that is likely to see continuity, at least in the near future.
Obama and Hu. One cannot imagine two leaders more unlike each other. I keenly watched Obama's victory speech in Chicago, and, with equal keenness, read Hu's speech at the opening of the CPC's 18th congress in Beijing. The US president's speech showed him at his oratorical best, rich in both content and inspirational flourish. Hu's speech, which was four times longer, lacked style and passion. Nevertheless, its message was weighty. After all, the world has to listen when a leader, who has led China to impressive heights of progress, presents a farewell report.
In spite of the obvious differences in the way the two countries are governed, there were a few remarkable similarities in what the two leaders said. True, they both defended their respective political systems. "We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today," said Obama, in a clear reference to China whose leaders are not yet elected by their people. Hu retorted by reiterating his party's oft-stated position: "We will never copy a western political system." However, while proudly mentioning the strengths and achievements of their respective countries, neither Obama nor Hu could gloss over the enormous challenges they face in development and politics.
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