U.S. Courts China Trade, Criticizes Rights Abuses

Chinese President Hu Jintao will meet with President Bush at the White House on Thursday. The relationship between the United States and China is a challenge for the Bush administration, which wants to strengthen ties with the communist nation yet remain a critic of that nation's human rights record.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

At the White House tomorrow, President Bush will host Chinese President Hu Jintao. The two leaders are planning to discuss trade between the two countries and oil and nuclear proliferation.

Last night, President Hu dined with Seattle's best at Bill Gates' mansion, his first day in this country. Next, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Washington, the city, may offer less hospitality than Washington the state.

MICHELE KELEMEN, reporting:

President Bush doesn't seem to be the black-tie dinner type. He's hosted only four traditional state dinners since he's been at the White House for the leaders of Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, and Poland. The president is to host a lunch for Hu Jintao.

One of the president's former advisors on Asia, Michael Green, says even without a formal dinner, there will be other trappings of a state visit: a south lawn ceremony, and a 21-gun salute.

Dr. MICHAEL GREEN (Former Asia Advisor to President George W. Bush): There's going to be an awful lot of pomp and circumstance in this visit. It will look good on TV in Guanjo(ph) and Szechwan and a president who will be happy with that. The Chinese site is calling it a state visit. They're checking their box.

KELEMEN: The White House has been careful not to call it a state visit. The protocol may sound like a fairly trivial matter. But Green says it is important that the president not get out ahead of what Congress or the American people think about China.

Dr. GREEN: We also, I think, on the U.S. side, don't want to give China a free pass, a Good Housekeeping seal of approval without some change in behavior. And it all gets very subtly worked into how you handle statements and press statements and press protocol and all of this.

Frankly, it may be different now. But when I was working in the NSC preparing for past visits of Chinese leaders, well over half of the negotiations were about protocol.

KELEMEN: Michael Green, who was speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, points out that the Bush administration is not referring to its relationship with China as a strategic partnership, which was a goal of the Clinton administration.

Instead, president, who is hearing a lot about how the U.S. wants China to be a quote, "responsible stakeholder." Those are the buzz words often repeated by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zellick.

Deputy Secretary ROBERT ZELLICK (Deputy Secretary of State): It's important for us, and for others who want to work with China in different dimensions, private sector, to keep emphasizing how we have to try to get them to play this responsible role as a stakeholder on trade issues or currency issues. And the same is true, obviously, across the foreign policy agenda.

KELEMEN: The Bush administration has tried to bring China onboard for its tough line on Iran, North Korea, and Sudan, for instance. Those are areas Zellick expects Presidents Bush and Hu to discuss in their White House meeting.

On currency reform, an issue that has caused a lot of concern in the U.S., Zellick isn't raising expectations.

Deputy Secretary ZELLICK: China seems to be saying the right things, seems to be embedded in its program. The head of the People's Bank talks about this in a way that would suggest they're going to move in the right direction. But the process of change seems agonizingly slow.

KELEMEN: And that has led to a lot of frustration in Congress according to C. Fred Bergsten, one of the authors of China the Balance Sheet: What the World Needs to Know About the Emerging Superpower. China, he says, has kept its currency undervalued and in this case is not being a responsible stakeholder.

Mr. C. FRED BERGSTEN (Co-Author, China the Balance Sheet: What the World Needs to Know About the Emerging Superpower): They had been blatantly intervening to block market forces for three or four years that would have pushed their currency a lot higher and reduced, at least to some extent, their huge global trade surplus.

The Chinese seem to have a blind spot on the issue. They don't recognize that they would be better off to strengthen their currency. They would certainly head off the risk of trade protectionism against them here in the United States and in Europe.

KELEMEN: Though Presidents Bush and Hu have a huge agenda, Bergsten says the White House talks won't be long enough to seriously tackle the issues. The danger, he says, is that Hu Jintao will come and go without announcing any significant new steps on currency or trade disputes. And that will only increase the frustration in Congress.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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