Hu to play down "China threat" on U.S. visit
Reuters | August 31, 2005
By Benjamin Kang Lim
BEIJING - Chinese President Hu Jintao will seek to play down a perceived economic and military threat to the United States from China on his first visit as head of state while seeking reassurances Washington will rein in Taiwan.
Hu's September 5-17 tour of North America, which includes stops in Canada and Mexico, comes against a backdrop of heightened Sino-U.S. trade tensions, alarm over China Inc.'s courting of U.S. firms and a simmering concern over the rise of China on the global diplomatic stage.
The Chinese president hopes to defuse some U.S. angst with a possible deal to end a dispute over Chinese textiles and by milking any remaining goodwill over China's July revaluation of its currency. His underlying message, diplomats say, will be that China's development is positive for the United States.
In return, analysts say, Hu wants the United States to ease off on its rhetoric about China's military threat and stop pushing arms to Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
How successful he will be remains to be seen.
"The United States is worried about China's military build-up and energy diplomacy," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University.
"U.S. worries about China will still grow. China can try to make the United States feel at ease, but it's all doubtful from the U.S. viewpoint," Shi said. "Some issues cannot be resolved at all at this stage."
The Pentagon said in a report in July it was concerned about China's rapid military modernization and economic might and feared that a changing balance of power in Asia could threaten Taiwan, which Beijing has claimed since their split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.
The United States has also been urging Taiwan to agree to a massive arms purchase including submarines, spy planes and missiles to keep the balance in the Taiwan strait from tipping irreversibly toward Beijing.
President George W. Bush will host Hu from September 5-8, a visit that caps months of rising trade friction and U.S. complaints about the yuan currency, which U.S. manufacturers said was kept artificially cheap to fuel Chinese exports.
China revalued its currency by 2.1 percent in July, but U.S. lawmakers want further revaluation to cut a trade deficit with China that is tipped to surpass last year's record $162 billion.
Beijing often uses big-ticket purchases like aircraft to try to ease trade tensions. True to form, China Southern Airlines, the country's largest carrier by fleet size, signed a deal on Tuesday to buy 10 Boeing 787 aircraft for about $1.2 billion.
He Yafei, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of American Affairs, said on Tuesday China was willing to buy more U.S. goods and urged Washington to ease curbs on export of high-tech goods to China.
"Hu Jintao's U.S. visit will bring to the United States the message that China's development is conducive not only to Chinese but also to the United States and the world," He said.
The message may prove a tough sell. Hu's first U.S. trip since he became president in 2003 follows a stormy summer in bilateral trade ties as China and America wrangled over energy, textiles, Chinese counterfeiting and China's currency policy.
Congress reacted with alarm when China's top offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC tried to buy Unocal, which raised concerns about national security.
Analysts expected Hu to ask the United States to rein in an increasingly assertive Taiwan and ease off on arms sales.
Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 in keeping with a "one China" policy, but continues to be the democratic island's strongest backer. Bush has said he would do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan.
"China will hope the United States does not sell weapons to Taiwan and does not strengthen military and political relations with Taiwan," said Jia Qingguo, a professor of international relations at Peking University.
Bush will likely urge China to talk to Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who has refused to kowtow to Beijing's terms for talks, and Jia said he may express some concern about China's military buildup and the missiles it has aimed at the island.
But to persuade America about the lack of a China threat will take a considerable charm offensive by Hu, analysts said.
"While China's economy has become more and more market-oriented, China's political system remains single-party rule or dictatorship, and this is the very root of all the talk about a China threat," Jing Huang, an analyst at Washington-based Brookings Institution, said.
(Additional reporting by Vivi Lin and Guo Shipeng in BEIJING and Paul Eckert in WASHINGTON)