The Hu Jintao visit last week to the White House and President Obama's reaction to it were predicated on three realities: 1) the Chinese economy is growing at a far faster rate than the U.S.; it is the world's largest creditor, America is the largest debtor nation in the world; 2) stung by the November election and stubbornly high unemployment, President Obama has dropped all the fat-cat them/us anti-business talk and spread the wealth lingo that terrified business and prolonged the recession, and is now desperately trying to create more jobs, mostly through exports to places like China; 3) one American still produces three times the goods and services as three Chinese and enjoys a standard of living that won't be reached by 1 billion in China for decades more—if it avoids social chaos, environmental disaster, and political disruption.
Add that all up and we end up with the current passive/aggressive attitudes toward China and vice versa. We feel we are in decline, they in ascendency, but our decline is still far more affluent than their rise. We worry about their muscle flexing, but understand financial clout earns political influence and so don't like what we see as inevitable. And we know the trade imbalances are both unsustainable and mostly our fault not theirs, but believe that even a symbolic small trade concession will, in some measure, mean more American jobs and therefore improve Obama's reelection chances. For Obama, human rights, Tibet, or North Korea are simply not part of the present short-term picture.
A person from Mars would advise us to cut entitlements and spending, balance budgets, curb regulations and unleash American commerce to restore America's fiscal health, and then most of our political problems with China would disappear, but that would entail ending the entire big government, Keynesian, redistribute the wealth philosophies that are inseparable from Obama's political career.