BEIJING, Apr 6: Chinese President Hu Jintao flies to Washington this month facing squalls over trade, but -- for him -- the visit's success may hang on securing words from President George W Bush on another volatile issue: Taiwan.
While the United States will be looking to Beijing during the visit for steps that could help narrow its 202 billion dollars trade gap, Hu will seek backing on Taiwan, the self-governed island of 23 million that China claims as its own and says must accept unification, officials and experts told Reuters.
They said Hu is hoping that Bush will offer public comments, and private reassurances, discouraging Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian from any pro-independence moves as he serves out his second, and final, term till 2008.
''A flock of well-connected Chinese academics has been in Washington over the past month to express the view that Hu seeks some sort of statement from Bush against Chen's moves,'' a US Senate staff member who recently visited Beijing said by e-mail, adding that Chinese diplomats had also highlighted the issue.
In February, Chen shelved a council and guidelines focused on eventual reunification.
Chen's move alarmed China's leaders, who fear he may be preparing to take further independence-leaning steps to secure his political legacy and revive his troubled Democratic Progressive Party, Beijing analysts said.
''China does need a very clear message from the United States on this issue,'' said Qin Yaqing, Vice President of the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing, who has advised China's leaders. ''Some reassurance, some clearer message would be important.'' Taiwan has been divided from China since 1949, when fleeing Nationalist forces turned the island into a stronghold against the mainland's new Communist rulers.
The United States accepts Beijing's ''one China'' policy, but also provides arms to help defend Taiwan.
Since Chen won office in 2000, he has repeatedly clashed with Beijing over the status of Taiwan by treating eventual reunification as an option, not a certainty.
In 2005, China introduced a law threatening war against Taiwan if it declared independence, and it warmly embraced leaders of Taiwanese political parties opposed to Chen.
For Beijing and Washington, Taiwan is a barometer of overall security.
Many in Beijing remain wary of Washington's long-term intentions in Asia, and say the United States treats Taiwan as a bulwark against rising Chinese power. Many in Washington say Beijing's threats to use force against Taiwan undercut China's claims to be a ''peacefully rising'' power.
Securing Bush's public acceptance of Chinese concerns about Taiwan when he visits Washington on April 20 would bolster Hu's authority, said Yuan Tiecheng, a Beijing-based researcher for the Shanghai Pacific Institute for International Strategy.
''Undoubtedly, he's under pressure on the issue,'' Yuan said of Hu. ''China worries there may be problems in the lead-up to the (Beijing) Olympics in 2008, and hopes Bush will send a signal to Chen Shui-bian, even if it's just a few words.'' But Beijing analysts said Bush, reluctant to appear compliant as he presses China on trade and human rights, is unlikely to repeat a blunt warning to Chen not to upset the status quo, which he made when Premier Wen Jiabao visited Washington in 2003.
''They want a formal promise from Bush, but I think they will be disappointed,'' said Yan Xuetong, an international security expert at Tsinghua University in Beijing.