Hu You Calling a Lame Duck?

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Ahead of high-profile meetings between Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, the New York Times calls Hu Jintao “the weakest leader of the Communist era.” Ouch.

Last week China surprised everybody — including, apparently, the Chinese president — by testing a stealth fighter during Robert Gates’ visit.  On Monday, the Times cites this and other examples as proof of Hu’s lackluster leadership.

(See pictures of the largest military parade in China’s history.)

The piece argues that Hu “is less able to project authority than his predecessors were,” and therefore may not be able keep U.S.-China relations on track. Write David E. Sanger and Michael Wines: 

“American officials have spent years urging Mr. Hu to revalue China’s currency, rein in North Korea, ease up on dissidents and crack down on the copying of American technology, and they have felt at times that Mr. Hu agreed to address their concerns. But those problems have festered, and after first wondering if the Chinese leader was simply deflecting them or deceiving them, President Obama’s top advisers have concluded that Mr. Hu is often at the mercy of a diffuse ruling party in which generals, ministers and big corporate interests have more clout, and less deference, than they did in the days of Mao or Deng Xiaoping, who commanded basically unquestioned authority.”

Indeed, as TIME’s Hannah Beech recently wrote, today’s China can no longer speak with a single voice. “Authority over foreign policy has become fractured,” notes a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “Foreigners must take into account multiple agencies that have a stake or say in any given decision.”

Too true. But Newsfeed will take a diplomatic mêlée over Chairman Mao any day.

(Read TIME’s Hannah Beech on China’s mixed diplomatic messages.)