The Chinese president comes to Washington bearing gifts, but he makes a weak strategic ally. If there was ever a serious debate within the Bush administration about whether it is best to "engage" or "contain" China, it is now over: When President Hu Jintao visits Washington this week, the two presidents will meet for the fifth time in under a year.
Though Mr. Hu will not get the state dinner or formal designation of state visitor that he wanted, he will get a 21-gun salute on the White House lawn, along with other high-protocol trappings. In practice the Bush administration already treats Mr. Hu's regime as such an ally, inviting its collaboration in curbing the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran and stabilizing the global economy -- and relegating concerns about its domestic repression to a back burner.
With its own energy interests in mind, China is blocking the administration's attempt to bring pressure to bear on Iran's nuclear program through the United Nations Security Council.
Similarly, it has used its enormous leverage over North Korea only to nudge that regime into participating in talks on its nuclear weapons, rather than to demand steps toward giving them up.
[Excerpt of Washington Post editorial]