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China's President Hu Jintao goes to Washington

As China and the US emerge from a year of diplomatic spats, Beijing appears more optimistic than Washington on what can come out of President Hu Jintao's visit to the White House this week.

By Staff Writer / January 18, 2011

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao in November during their bilateral meeting in Seoul ahead of the start of the G20 summit.

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

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Mismatched expectations of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States, which starts Tuesday, appear to put Beijing and Washington at odds even as both sides seek to calm their troubled relationship.

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President Hu says he is going to the US “to enhance strategic mutual trust” between the two sides. A foreign policy adviser to the Chinese government, Chu Shulong, says Beijing wants the trip “to set the tone for the relationship for the next 10 years.”

In Washington, however, expectations are more modest as China and the US emerge from the worst year in their relations for a decade. “The summit will establish some much needed stability,” predicts David Shambaugh, head of the China Policy Program at George Washington University in Washington.

“After the last year of deterioration, stability is a good thing,” he says. “But it’s a long way from establishing strategic mutual trust.”

There have been recent signs of closer cooperation between the US and China on issues ranging from climate change to North Korea, say some analysts, which give reason for hope that the two giants might find more common ground.

A series of clashes with China over the past year, however, have battered President Obama’s early dream of a close partnership.

“America and China have arrived at a critical juncture, a time when the choices we make ... will shape the trajectory of this relationship,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech last week.

“It is up to both of us to more consistently translate positive words into effective cooperation,” she added in an apparent reference to hopes born of Mr. Obama’s visit to China in 2009 that were quickly dashed.

Feeding Chinese suspicions

US officials are disappointed that the wide-ranging joint statement issued during that visit – sealing agreements in fields such as energy, aviation, technology, space, and public health – turned out to be largely a dead letter.

It fell victim to angry spats over three issues about which the Chinese government is particularly sensitive, but which are questions of principle for America: Washington sold a new batch of arms to Taiwan, Obama received the Dalai Lama at the White House, and the US government offered vocal support to Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese writer who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

These moves fed Chinese suspicions, especially among increasingly vocal nationalist observers here, about US intentions. Washington’s renewed assertion of its leadership in Asia and its deepening alliances with Japan, South Korea, and India have also sparked fears in Beijing of containment.


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