US President Barack Obama will host China’s likely next leader, Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), at the White House on Feb. 14, in a visit set to boost Xi’s credentials as the man who will steer Beijing’s close but quarrelsome ties with Washington.
Obama and Xi will discuss “a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues,” the White House said in a statement on Monday in announcing the visit, when Xi will be hosted by Vice President Joe Biden.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had yet to confirm the date of the visit, and had no immediate comment yesterday.
The two sides will have plenty of strains to talk about — especially over trade, North Korea and Iran — and the Obama administration will be keen for clues about Xi’s worldview and how he intends to handle these thorny issues.
“The man Biden’s hosting, barring something no one foresees at this point, will become the head of China, head of the [Chinese] Communist Party [CCP], head of the government and head of the military,” China expert Kenneth Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution said.
“This is really a chance for the Obama administration to look forward to the succession and post-succession period in China and begin to establish critical personal relationships and a personal comfort level back and forth,” he said.
Xi’s growing prominence indicates that he is virtually certain to replace Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) as CCP chief late this year and then replace him as state president early next year.
The two powers have delicate issues to work through, ranging from currency policy to differences over how to halt the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, to China’s recent crackdown on critics and activists that has drawn US criticism.
Beijing has voiced misgivings about Obama’s plans to beef up the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and remains unhappy about US arms sales to Taiwan.
China, Iran’s biggest oil customer, also bristles at US efforts to tighten sanctions on that country in order to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Beijing recently rebuffed a US official’s call to cut back oil purchases from Iran.
Obama, facing a tough re-election in November, was expected to renew his call for China to allow its currency to appreciate during his State of the Union address yesterday, as he highlights US exports among his proposals to boost jobs.
Xi, 58, is the son of the late, reformist vice premier Xi Zhongxun (習仲勛), making him a “princeling:” one of the offspring of China’s leaders who rose to power under Mao Zedong (毛澤東). He rose through the party ranks in coastal provinces.
Xi’s family background and coming of age in the turmoil of Mao’s Cultural Revolution have prompted some observers to suggest he could take a harder line against Washington. However, he tried to set an upbeat tone in a speech last week.