Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) headed to the US yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Hu was to begin the visit in Washington with a private dinner last night in the White House residence, hosted by US President Barack Obama and to be attended by only a few senior officials.
Obama will then lay on the pageantry of a state visit today, including talks in the Oval Office and a state dinner, before Hu heads to Chicago for talks with business leaders. The visit will end on Friday.
“The visit is an important one,” ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told reporters in Beijing as he confirmed Hu’s departure. “We hope the visit will promote positive and cooperative China-US relations, map out new directions for bilateral relations in the new era and raise cooperation to a new level.”
Chinese state media reported yesterday, citing unnamed sources, that a series of deals was expected to be signed during the visit, including the sale of Boeing aircraft.
The 67-year-old Hu will be stepping out of character when he takes questions from reporters after meeting Obama today. It’s a White House demand that could create some awkward moments, but Hu is willing to take the risk to improve China’s image abroad.
Hu has taken questions in public before, notably at a 2005 news conference with former US president George W. Bush in Beijing, but he refused to do so when Obama visited in 2009.
Hu also plans to meet with ordinary Americans during his Chicago stop, Beijing said.
“China’s rising international status is increasingly a source of legitimacy for the government and Chinese leaders want to exploit this nationalist sentiment as much as they can,” said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), head of the Contemporary China Research Center at the City University of Hong Kong.
The news conference isn’t China’s only bid to influence US public opinion during Hu’s visit. A 60-second video featuring Hong Kong action film star Jackie Chan (成龍), Houston Rockets center Yao Ming (姚明), pianist Lang Lang (郎朗) and other elebrities began running on six outdoor monitors in New York’s Times Square on Monday and will continue through the middle of next month. Shorter versions will run on TV.
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