Chinese President, Obama Have Much To Discuss

President Obama is meeting this week with China's President Hu Jintao. Liane Hansen talks with NPR's Rob Gifford about the issues the two will likely discuss, including currency, debt and North Korea.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Chinese President Hu Jintao comes to Washington this week. This is his first visit since 2006, and likely will be his last. He steps down next year. President Hu will meet with President Obama in the White House on Wednesday and will also travel to Chicago.

Some have called 2010 the worst year of U.S./China relations in a decade. It wasn't great for Chinese diplomacy generally. Many countries, not just the U.S., are not happy with Chinas increased influence in the world.

NPRs Rob Gifford is in Shanghai. And, Rob, how important is this visit to China and the Chinese?

ROB GIFFORD: Well, I think from the leadership point of view, Liane, it's very important, indeed. And I think we're going to see that in the wall-to-wall summit coverage thats going to happen on television here and in the newspapers. It's very important for President Hu to get the prestige and the face that he will get here at home from standing, shaking hands with President Obama. The U.S. is recognized as still being the major superpower in the world and this is symbolic of Chinas rise.

But I think for the ordinary people I've spoken to, they dont actually care too much. It's amazing. I think they're really too busy either making a million dollars or scraping just to get by.

HANSEN: What specifically, then, do the Chinese leaders hope to accomplish while they're here in the United States?

GIFFORD: Well, as I said, it is the most important relationship for China. And, frankly, it's the most important bilateral relationship in the world between any two countries, I think. The Chinese are very aware, as you mentioned in your introduction there, that theyve not had a good year. It ended with the Nobel Peace Prize and all the criticism of their reaction. Earlier in the year, there were spats over small islands between China and Japan. You have all the ongoing trade issues, all sorts of things that have caused problems.

What they need is to really to press the reset button, I think, with the U.S. relationship. And I think thats what they're going to be trying to do on the high politics level.

There's also some lower politics, if you like, dealing with the people, the American people. I think President Hu is going to be on something of a charm offensive, trying to say to America, and American people especially who are starting to feel edgy about China, and a bit annoyed about Chinas rise in many ways - dont worry, we're not a threat.

The places he's going to in Chicago, a school that teaches Mandarin, an auto-parts biz that China has invested in to show that China is actually creating jobs in United States, and a joint clean energy project to show that China cares about the environment - all these things trying to present China as a partner.

HANSEN: Some Americans say it's the most important China/U.S. summit since Nixon went to China. A new era, China is stronger. Do the Chinese have the same opinion?

GIFFORD: I think the Chinese see themselves as much weaker than the West does. And thats because, of course, they live here and they see the domestic problems that the Chinese government has. They see this summit certainly as important. But, as I mentioned, I think they just have so many problems here that they are thinking much more of those things. Theyll see the prestige that President Hu gets, but thats really more of their focus here at home at the moment.

HANSEN: How likely are the Chinese, though, to make concessions on issues the U.S. sees as important - things like trade ties, currency revaluation and, of course, North Korea?

GIFFORD: Well, I think President Hu will make all sorts of friendly noises about considering this and that and the other. But I think, in the end, his domestic pressures are going to be too strong. And I think even though he will say some friendly words, I think he may well hang tough on all sorts of things like those issues because he knows he has to do whats right for China and not whats right for America. And that will be the conflict - trying to present a charm offensive to the American people, when he's still hanging tough on issues that are dear to American hearts.

HANSEN: NPR's Rob Gifford in Shanghai. Rob, thank you.

GIFFORD: Thank you, Liane.

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