Diplomatic protocol over Chinese President Hu Jintao's (
Washington proposed that Hu meet President George W. Bush at his Crawford, Texas ranch or Camp David retreat -- informal settings where the US leader feels comfortable discussing issues in a relaxed fashion.
Among the privileged few who have been put up at Bush's ranch were Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin (
But Chinese officials wanted a state visit for Hu -- an arrival ceremony on the White House south lawn accompanied by a 21-gun salute customary for a head of state, a summit meeting at the Oval office and a State dinner.
Knowing how important protocol is to Chinese culture and the stakes involved domestically, Beijing wanted to gain maximum mileage from Hu's first visit to Washington as leader of the world's most populous nation, diplomats familiar with the preparations said.
Chinese officials preferred Hu against the backdrop of Washington's powerful symbols -- the White House and Capitol Hill -- ahead of his attendance at the UN Summit to send a key message home that their leader was on the world stage.
Washington however was worried a state visit would not go over well among Americans.
China has often been portrayed by US leaders and lawmakers as a military threat, frequent flouter of global trading rules and an opponent of democracy.
Finally, after much deliberations and a compromise, US officials agreed to give Hu a 21 gun salute and a welcome on the south lawn but drew the line at a state banquet -- no state dinner but just a lunch, officials familiar with the protocol said.
Hu will stay at the Blair House residence opposite the White House often used by foreign dignitaries.
But his trip falls short of a full-blown state visit.
"It is a shame that interlocutors on both sides spent a better part of six to eight months talking about whether it is a state visit, official visit or just a visit and and not talking about other issues the presidents really need to talk about," said Randall Schriver, a senior US State Department official handling East Asian issues under Bush's first term.
Perry Link, professor of East Asian studies at Princeton University, said considering the large number of bilateral issues -- North Korea, Taiwan, human rights and religious freedom, energy and trade -- and Hu's "tight and scripted" schedule, "I don't expect anything new.
Hu will be the first Chinese leader not to receive a state visit on his maiden trip to the US as head of state.
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