I don’t think much is going to happen between Hu and Obama other than the ritual exchange of boilerplate and the distant shouting of demonstrators. There is an emerging pattern in Sino-US contacts for an anonymous source on the US side to brief reporters that the Chinese are speaking or behaving in some way that indicates aggression or instability and I wouldn’t be surprised if a “source present at the meeting” gave another such speculative push this time.
But the real issue confronting China watchers here is the back of Hu Juntao’s head, and whether his hair fails to cover it. Photographers and TV camerapeople in China aren’t permitted to shoot Hu from behind and so it’s up to the free world’s eager snappers to reveal whether there’s any daylight there. No joy so far.
Hair plays an oddly significant role in Chinese politics. Pretty much everybody in a remotely senior position who has it dyes it a uniform shade of black. This seems to be a reform era innovation. People like Zhou Enlai and Liu Shaoqi were proud silver foxes, as was old man Deng. I’m not sure it’s individual vanity as such. In fact, it seems to be an aspect of the anti-charisma cultivated by China’s collective leadership. That sleek black helmet doesn’t so much point to the vigour of the individual, but of the great and terrible machine of which he is a component. Part of the ritual of corruption investigations lies in seeing some haggard politician thrust before the cameras with his dye grown out, his newly grey hair suggestive of the fact that he’s lost his power – and symbolically, perhaps, his potency. Maybe it’s the same reasoning with bald patches.