President Barack Obama must be elated that in a matter of days, he had played host to two of the world’s most powerful leaders. Arriving within days of each other, Pope Francis, the spiritual leader and symbolic head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and President Xi Jinping, the supreme leader of China’s 1.3 billion people, crisscrossed the U.S. in a mission of goodwill.
Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. was his first. He was also the first Pope to address a joint session of Congress, an occasion that was significant only because he touched on a sensitive issue that has been rocking America’s political establishment – immigration. He reminded his audience that we should not be fearful of foreigners. “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” he said. “I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.” Being the son of immigrants, his comments were a testament to his family’s search for a better life. His father’s family left Italy in 1929 to escape the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. They found it in Argentina.
Born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the eldest of five children of Mario José Bergoglio and his wife Regina María Sívori, who is a daughter of Italian immigrants. Little did they know that their son Jorge would someday become Pope.
After Pope Francis’ address to Congress, Speaker John Boehner – who was once an altar boy – invited him to have dinner with him and other congressional leaders. The Pope politely declined the invitation, saying that he has a date with the homeless; he would be serving them meals at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, DC.
After his meeting with Obama at the White House, where they discussed climate change, Pope Francis left for New York City where a hectic schedule awaited him. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly and then went to the Ground Zero Memorial where he prayed for the victims of 9/11. In a few words of wisdom, he encapsulated the events of 9/11 into the human psyche, saying: “This place of death became a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.”
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping – called “Xi Dada” or “Big Daddy Xi” by his people – was busy meeting business people across the U.S. On his first stop in Seattle, Washington State, Xi impressed the media when it was announced that China was buying 300 commercial airplanes from Boeing worth $38 billion. However, the deal includes a plan to build a 737 completion center in China that generated protests from Boeing’s labor union. The planned completion center — installing interiors, painting, and delivering the planes – would mean closing the plants in Renton, North Carolina and at the Boeing Field in Everett, Washington, and moving the jobs to China. Trade experts believe that the controversial deal violates the Agreement on Trade in Civil Aircraft, which is a “side agreement” among member-countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Speaking at a joint press conference with Xi on September 25, Obama reiterated concerns about China’s reclamation, construction, and militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea (SCS), Xi responded in no uncertain terms: “Islands in the South China Sea, since ancient times, are China’s territory. We have the right to uphold our own territorial sovereignty and lawful and legitimate maritime rights and interests.” He added, “Relevant construction activity that China is undertaking in the Nansha Islands [Spratly Islands] does not target or impact any country and there is no intention to militarize.”
With those words, Xi made it crystal clear that the SCS is Chinese property and that it’s not negotiable. With a “no compromise” stand on territorial ownership of the SCS, Xi appears to be telling Obama, “If you go to war against us, we will annihilate America.” He made his point clear last September 3 when in celebrating the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, Xi paraded China’s military might that included seven new types of offensive missiles, two of which were labeled in plain English, “Carrier Killer” and “Guam Killer.”
Raising the ante
On September 24 – on the eve of the Obama-Xi summit meeting at the White House – it was reported in the news that China is launching a new ballistic missile submarine that could potentially target any part of the U.S. by the end of 2015. Further, the report said, “The Jin-class submarines will be armed with the new JL-2 ballistic missile. This missile has a range of 4,000 nautical miles, which would allow the submarine target Hawaii, Alaska, and portions of the west coast of the US from the waters off of East Asia.”
And instead of softening his hard-line stand on the South China Sea disputes — which is a common courtesy in the world of high-level diplomacy – Xi raised the ante on the eve of his state visit when Chinese authorities arrested an American citizen, Phan Phan-Gillis, for spying. She was part of a business delegation from Houston when she was detained six months ago. Her husband, Jeff Gillis, told the New York Times, “It is the most stupid politics in the world to arrest a U.S. citizen the week that Xi Jinping is coming to the United States for a state visit on political charges of spying.”
Good vs. evil
It is evident that Pope Francis and Xi Jinping’s visits to America have made contrasting impressions on the American people. On one hand, Papa Francisco had a profound impact on America as Americans of various religious beliefs and political persuasions had embraced the Pope’s message of peace and love. Indeed, Papa Francisco’s visit had brought together a people beset with seemingly insurmountable problems facing them: from immigration to the sanctity of life, from the plight of the poor to social justice.
On the other hand, Xi Dada brought a message of mixed signals that created an atmosphere of mistrust and belligerence. Instead of bridging the gap that separates the world’s leading democracy and communist China’s godless society that values authoritarian elitism at the expense of human rights, Xi’s visit demonstrated that world peace is like a star – you see it glow in your eyes but far too distant to reach. It’s just a dream but Papa Francisco had made us believe that peace can be achieved through faith while Xi Dada tried to convince the world that universal peace can only be achieved with the economic, cultural, and existential destruction of America.
But as history has manifested it too often, in the end good shall prevail over evil.