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Xi Jinping in California: a glimpse of what China really wants

Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping will spend most of his two-day California trip highlighting the two things that, perhaps, the Chinese people admire most about the US: films and basketball. 

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He says the Chinese have developed their own “China’s Got Talent,” with three judges based on the American model. A 65-year-old grandmother recently won by dancing to Michael Jackson’s hit, “Beat it.”

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“The Chinese are very frustrated that it was Hollywood and not them which came up with ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ " he says, talking of the recent animated hit. “They said, 'Hey, Kung Fu is ours, Pandas are ours. Why can’t we do that?' ”

Dube and others say that, as the Chinese try to learn to create like Americans, Hollywood will use Xi’s visit to talk about Chinese investment in American films.

The L.A. visit will also be a time to loosen the collar a bit, say other analysts.

"This visit is coming at a sensitive time, in that Apple has come under criticism for working conditions at its plants in China, and tensions are escalating as iPads are being seized over a trademark dispute with a company in Shenzhen,” says Maria Toyoda, a political scientist at Villanova University in Philadelphia, in an e-mail. “So, piracy may be an issue that would be raised in a delicate way, if at all."

"This visit is mostly about trade," she says. "Xi wants to head off any tensions, business people on both sides are using the coattails of this visit to cut deals, and California mayors are looking for investment and job growth.”

After urging the US on Wednesday to reduce its “misunderstanding and suspicion” of China, Xi will have the chance to share hot dogs with Mayor Villaraigosa at L.A.’s other major world attraction that interests the Chinese: the Los Angeles Lakers. They will attend a game Friday night against the Phoenix Suns at StaplesCenter.

Dube says Kobe Bryant’s jersey was the biggest selling NBA item in China last year, and even women in rural areas know key statistics, trades, and game nights. 

T-shirts and bags in China read: “ ‘Huren Dui’, which means 'Men of the Lake Team,' " says Dube. “Xi will be a very popular man all over China for having gone to see them live on their home court.”

And that’s just one side of the equation.

“A visit like this is meant to show Xi to Americans as a much warmer and down-to-earth personality, and more approachable" than former President Hu Jintao, says Carla Freeman, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “It sends a signal that the Chinese are interested in more than just politics in Washington, but America as a whole and as a people.”

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