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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.

By Staff writer / February 14, 2012

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with US and Chinese business leaders in Beijing last year.

Lintao Zhang/AP/File

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WASHINGTON

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 man set to become China’s president later this year, makes his White House debut Tuesday, President Obama might find it harder to keep underlying economic and political frustrations under wraps than past presidents have, some analysts say.

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Key issues in the US-China relationship – trade, currency policy, cybersecurity, and human rights –  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 January announced a reorientation of US defense priorities toward Asia.

The result is that “the game plan for the Obama administration may be generally the same on this visit as it was for us in 2002, which was … to lower expectations for deliverables and focus on the relationship,” says Michael Green, who was the National Security Council’s 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 “harder” than when Mr. Hu first visited “to invest in the relationship, emphasize the positive, [and] lower expectations,” says Mr. Green, now a senior Asia analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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