Mr Hu goes to Washington (after he's seen Bill Gates and the
The Times April 19, 2006
THE leader of the world’s most populous nation was warmly welcomed
to America last night by the world’s most influential man.
President Hu Jintao was guest of honour for a lavish banquet at
Bill Gates’s Seattle lakeside mansion on the opening night of what
China is calling a four-day “state visit”.
But when the Chinese leader arrives in Washington for talks with
President Bush tomorrow — after first stopping off at the Boeing plant
— he will find that the social temperature has, deliberately, dropped
a few degrees. He will, for example be offered only a “social lunch”
during what the White House insists is merely “a visit”.
Such diplomatic nuances reflect the highly strung relationship
between the countries. While Communist China has become a powerhouse
capitalist economy with which America has no choice but to do
business, the US remains deeply wary of its emerging rival.
President Bush describes Sino-American relations as “complex”, the
State Department says China must become a “responsible stakeholder” in
the world community, and the National Security Strategy says the US
“seeks to encourage China . . . while we hedge against other
The chief pressure points include the undervaluation of the yuan —
which has exacerbated the vast trade imbalance between the countries —
and the enormous economic leverage China now has over America through
its purchase of $262 billion (£147 billion) of US Government debt.
Other contentious issues include human rights, Taiwan, and Iran.
“When we write the briefing memo for the President the one for the
China visit is always the longest because we can never seem to boil it
down to one or two issues,” one senior official said. The Chinese hope
that this visit can help to allay such concerns. According to the
state-run China Daily: “Hu’s trip is set to clear US minds of
doubts and suspicion.”
Last night Mr Gates was expected to serve his 100 dinner guests a
three-course meal including Alaskan halibut and spot prawns and a
dessert of rhubarb brown butter almond cake. President Hu, like any
good guest, was keen to ensure that he did not arrive empty-handed at
the Microsoft founder’s home.
The meeting was intended to seal the peace between Communist China
and the capitalists of Microsoft, who have been complaining about the
theft of their software. The Chinese Government has ordered that all
new computer sales must have licensed software installed before
leaving the factory in an effort to crack down on piracy. As a result,
PC manufacturers intend to spend more than $400 million on Windows
software over the next three years.
And in a display of chequebook diplomacy, the Chinese Government
has signed 106 contracts worth $16.2 billion with US companies this
China has also promised to introduce a three-year plan to begin
balancing its global surplus. The US Treasury has, in turn, delayed
publication of a report into whether China is a “currency manipulator”
until after President Hu’s visit.
But US anger over what many see as a job-destroying trade deficit,
which grew to a record $202 billion last year, is unlikely to be
silenced for long. Mr Hu, unused to considering the views of elected
politicians, may have underestimated the strength of feeling in
Congress and growing frustrations within the administration.
Robert Zoellick, the US Deputy Secretary of State, has described
the pace of Beijing’s currency reforms as agonisingly slow and the
Senate is due to consider an oft-delayed Bill that would impose import
tariffs of 27.5 per cent on Chinese goods if the yuan is not allowed
to float freely.
The US view that China, as an aspirant superpower, should shoulder
more responsibility on the world stage is bound to surface this week.
China, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council,
has so far lined up with Russia to thwart punitive measures against
Mr Hu will have demands of his own: he will ask Mr Bush to use his
influence to restrain the independence ambitions of Taiwan, which
Beijing regards as sovereign territory.
The White House played down the reasons why Mr Hu was not getting a
full state visit, saying simply that Mr Bush, who likes to be tucked
up in bed by 9.30pm, does not like long, drawn-out state dinners.
“Each visit to the White House is unique and follows different
substantive and social formats,” a spokeswoman said. This one will
include a full 21-gun military salute and accommodation at Blair
House, where other world leaders stay.
Mr Hu, with his reserved, self-contained nature, is unlikely to
create much of a personal bond with his US counterpart. But the
Chinese President, still consolidating his position after three years
in the job, is playing to a domestic audience and wants to be seen on
television receiving the honours accorded to his predecessors.
There are some who believe that by insisting on as much pomp as
possible, Mr Hu has missed a chance of more fruitful talks. Ralph
Cossa, of the Pacific Forum Centre for Strategic and International
Studies, said: “Bush offered to Hu: ‘Come to the ranch, or to Camp
David, where we can roll up our sleeves and talk’. The Chinese went
for show over substance; they are missing an opportunity to work on
the chemistry angle.”