Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) is coming to town this week, and officials say US President Barack Obama will be taking a far more assertive stance as he greets his biggest global economic rival.
On the pomp and ceremony front, the Obama administration appears to be deploying much of the White House’s considerable protocol arsenal.
Hu is getting two dinners with Obama: first an intimate meal at the White House last night, and then a grand state dinner tonight. There will also be a lunch at the State Department hosted by Vice President Joe Biden; a joint news conference with Obama; a joint appearance with the president before US and Chinese business leaders; and chats on Capitol Hill with Democratic and Republican leaders.
However, the White House has prepared for the visit in other ways in the past two weeks, dispatching several Cabinet officials to publicly lay down challenges for Hu.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had a testy series of meetings in Beijing last week, telling reporters beforehand that the US would counter China’s military buildup in the Pacific by stepping up investments in weapons, jet fighters and technology.
Last Wednesday, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the US would grant China more access to high-tech US products and expand trade and investment opportunities in the US only if China opened its own domestic market to US products. Geithner said China also needed to take additional steps to allow the yuan to appreciate in value — an issue a bipartisan group of senators vowed on Monday to address with legislation this year.
Then on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized China’s human rights record, citing the persecution of the pro-democracy group Charter 08 and the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), the political activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but whose family was blocked from attending the prize ceremony in Oslo last month.
“The longer China represses freedoms,” she said, “the longer that Nobel Prize winners’ empty chairs in Oslo will remain a symbol of a great nation’s unrealized potential and unfulfilled promise.”
David Rothkopf, a national security expert who worked in the administration of former US president Bill Clinton, said: “There’s been this well-orchestrated and clearly well thought-out campaign, over the past two weeks, involving the secretary of State, Treasury, Defense and Commerce making strong statements regarding currency, the trade imbalance, human rights and China’s military stance.”
“So you’re welcoming the leader of the most important rival power in the world into the capital, and the way you pave his entrance into the city is laid with these four big thorny issues,” he said.
Eswar Shanker Prasad, a former economist with the IMF who now teaches trade policy at Cornell University, said China may have helped to strengthen the administration’s hand.
Recent Chinese moves to restrict access to its domestic economy have so frustrated US companies that corporate leaders are pressing the Obama administration to take a tougher stance.
“That’s why Geithner was so blunt about saying China has to provide more market access,” Prasad said. “I think Geithner’s speech set the tone very clearly about what they are trying to do. The language is very clear, and they are making the quid pro quo explicit.”
Hu is bringing a number of Chinese business leaders with him, and the White House has set apart 45 minutes today for the two leaders to meet with US and Chinese corporate leaders.
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