Xi Jinping, future Chinese president, faces test on first White House visit (+video)
Xi Jinping, China's president-in-waiting, will be greeted with friendly words of cooperation in his first White House visit. But the underlying US-China tensions will be hard to hide.
For decades, the White House has welcomed soon-to-be Chinese leaders to Washington with happy faces and professions of cooperation. But when Xi Jinping, the manÂ set to become Chinaâs president later this year, makes his White House debut Tuesday, President Obama might find it harder to keepÂ underlying economic and political frustrations under wraps than past presidents have, some analysts say.
Key issues in the US-China relationship â trade, currency policy, cybersecurity, and human rights â Â are sharper than just a few years ago, and an anti-China election-year climate has increased pressure.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney, for instance, insists that if elected president he would use his first day in the Oval Office to declare China a currency manipulator. And the Obama administration itself in JanuaryÂ announced a reorientation of US defense priorities toward Asia.
The result is thatÂ âthe game plan for the Obama administration may be generally the same on this visit as it was for us in 2002, which was âŚ to lower expectations for deliverables and focus on the relationship,â says Michael Green, who was the National Security Councilâs senior director for Asian affairs when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the Bush White House in 2002.
Yet the current situation means it will be âharderâ than when Mr. Hu first visited âto invest in the relationship, emphasize the positive, [and] lower expectations,â says Mr. Green, now a senior Asia analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The stormier climate will test Xi, who will want to show his domestic audience that he can hold his own with the Americans even as he charms them. Xi, who will also visit Iowa and Los Angeles, is purported to be a fan of American culture.
Xi, who technically is being hosted by Vice President Joe Biden, is also expected to announce some sizable agricultural purchases while in the Midwest, in an effort to dent criticisms of Chinaâs trade surplus with the US.
On North Korea, the US made something of a âwelcome to Washingtonâ gesture by announcing Monday that a US delegation will travel to Beijing to meet with North Korean officials Feb. 23. Given thatÂ China is most interested in promoting stability on the Korean Peninsula, it favors US engagement with Pyongyang.
The US, on the other hand, is worried that North Korea, under new leader Kim Jung-un, could decide in the coming months to carry out either another nuclear test or a missile test â actions that would serve to bolster the new leaderâs credentials, but that could also set off a new regional crisis.
Coloring all these issue is the Obama administration's new policy of âpivotingâ toward Asia. The policy includes new US military bases in the region and revitalized relations with Southeast Asian countries. But Green says the administration has since toned down its rhetoric, which set off alarms in Beijing.
âSince our friends in Beijing found 'pivot' too aggressive and threatening, Iâve heard the administration is going to change it to âpirouette,â â he says. âWeâre going to pirouette to Asia.â