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China's Hu offers US reassurance, not breakthroughs

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Apr 13 (Reuters) Chinese President Hu Jintao must perform before a US audience increasingly restive about China's growing strength when he visits there next week on a trip crafted to reassure, not confront.

President George W Bush has said trade grievances will dominate when the two leaders meet in Washington on April 20. These include widespread Chinese bootlegging of American goods, yuan exchange rate controls which many in Washington say keep Chinese exports undervalued, and a trade gap which hit a record 202 billion dollars in 2005.

Even before Hu leaves on Tuesday for the four-day visit, China has orchestrated a counter-offensive of deals and promises.

A delegation of Chinese trade officials and executives led by Vice Premier Wu Yi announced contracts worth 16.2 billion dollars with US firms in Washington on Tuesday. Wu also promised to crack down on piracy and buy more legitimate software.

''They've begun to sense the volatility of the (trade) issue,'' said Bates Gill, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

On his first stop, Seattle, Hu is expected to visit a production plant of Boeing, which counts China as a major buyer of its aircraft, as well as software giant Microsoft.

At the end of his trip, Hu is to visit Yale University to speak on China's ''peaceful development'', the theme that a rising China can avoid major contention with the United States, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

But his tightly scripted encounter with Bush is unlikely to yield concrete policy breakthroughs, several Chinese analysts said.

''Hu won't offer any big adjustments or concessions on exchange rate or trade policy issues; he will explain its policies and reasoning,'' Guan Anping, a Beijing lawyer and former trade official, told Reuters today.

BROAD REASSURANCES Rather, Hu hopes to garner broader public reassurances from Bush about their countries' long-term relationship, Qin Yaqing, vice president of China's National Association for International Studies who has advised Beijing leaders, told Reuters.

Beijing and Washington have overcome some of the distrust that grew between them in the first years of Bush's presidency, but Hu will also be looking for additional understanding over Taiwan and other volatile regional issues, Qin said.

Chinese officials and senior academics have pressed Bush to warn Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who Beijing says is pushing the self-governed island towards full independence.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan and says it must accept eventual reunification with the mainland. It has threatened to use force if Taipei seeks formal independence.

Bush, seeking to highlight his own trade and human rights concerns, is unlikely to do more than repeat his previous calls to both sides of the Taiwan Strait not to unilaterally change the status quo, said Michael McDevitt, a former US Navy Rear Admiral now at the CNA Corporation, a Washington think-tank.

For Hu, the rewards of this visit may come in gestures and picture opportunities as he seeks to bolster his stature.

China has insisted the trip is a formal ''state visit''.

Washington has offered Hu the ritual trappings of a high-level visit but refused to label it a ''state'' one.

''China wants the highest-level reception to reinforce the importance of the relationship,'' said Jia Qingguo, an expert on China-US relations at Peking University.

Hu had been scheduled to make his first visit to the United States in September last year, but the White House postponed it as it grappled with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.


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