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Mr. Geithner Goes to Beijing

When an anti- Russian detente opened with China years ago, Premier Zhou En-lai famously toasted Henry Kissinger: "You are brilliant, far-sighted, well-spoken, etc." And Kissinger replied, "Yes, for an American." And Zhou retorted, "Yes you understand completely." No American is ever going to put one over on the "Central Kingdom."

Having made a similar pilgrimage to Beijing, Mr. Timothy Geither , is not going to be welcomed so diplomatically. Compared to Kissinger's at least, his journey has something of the quality of the 1939 Leo Capra movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Jimmy  Stewart plays a naif by AMERICAN standards, an appointed Senator whose only "pork barrel" project is a park for the boy scouts, on land wanted for a dam by his corrupt appointers.

Having famously called the Chinese "currency manipulators," a quote second in infamy to Ben Bernanke's "we'll send out the helicopters," Geithner is going to be hard-pressed to win any economic concessions from them. All right, beyond the obligatory "Ni haos," they might offer him a "billions for an airplane" deal just to save everyone's face.But that would be a purchase, not a concession, helping to set up America to being "bought" again in the future.

And the Chinese are too polite to use it unless pushed beyond all tolerance, but they surely have "the file" on him personally: "You're the man who let Lehman Brothers go under last fall, aren't you? And how can you run a Treasury Department when you have trouble computing your own taxes?"

Timothy Geithner will accomplish nothing of importance in Beijing. That's because between his country's weakness and his own personal weaknesses, he basically has no cards to play.