LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. China says it wants a new type of "great power" relationship with the U.S. And its new president, Xi Jinping, will begin trying to lay the groundwork tomorrow for such a relationship, at a summit with President Obama here in California.

As to exactly what kind of relationship Xi wants - from Shanghai, NPR's Frank Langfitt has the Chinese perspective.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The track record of rising powers and ruling ones is not encouraging. They often end up in conflict. Consider Germany and Britain, leading into the First and Second World Wars. Cheng Li says President Xi wants to avoid that trap. Li is a specialist in Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

CHENG LI: He wants to challenge the Cold War mentality, which believes the existing power and also emerging power cannot have a relationship other than conflictual.

LANGFITT: But there is conflict. Diplomatic niceties aside, the world's No. 1 and No. 2 economies are competitors, sometimes rivals; and they have big disagreements on everything from Chinese hacking to America's renewed emphasis on East Asia.

Li says one thing Xi wants in California is a strong commitment that the U.S. is not trying to gang up on China.

CHENG: Chinese public and the Chinese leaders widely believe that the United States wants to contain China and support Japan, and support a country like a Vietnam and the Philippines.

LANGFITT: Li says two days in the informal setting - a 200-acre ranch - provides a rare opportunity for the two leaders to establish a rapport.

CHENG: If Xi can develop of kind of trust, believe that Obama does not have evil intention, that will be very, very important. Personal ties always carry weight, but particularly true in the China case, because they are so suspicious about real purpose of the United States.

LANGFITT: Huang Jing runs the Center on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at National University of Singapore. He says President Obama will encounter a different kind of leader in Xi, one more confident than his recent predecessors, who seemed thin-skinned when chided by Americans over issues like human rights.

HUANG JING: Their tone is more defensive. You're criticizing me, I've been trying so hard. But Xi Jinping's tone is not defensive at all. He does not defend. He says I'm on the right side. Basically he said to back off, leave that alone.

ANDREW NATHAN: The Chinese, I think, view Obama as a weak president.

LANGFITT: Andrew Nathan teaches Chinese politics and foreign policy at Columbia University.

NATHAN: They see him as structurally weak, because the American political system is so hard to manage.

LANGFITT: And, Nathan says, China's leaders also see themselves in a stronger position today.

NATHAN: The Chinese economy has grown so fast, the Chinese military budget has grown so fast, their strategic vision now is that this is the time to begin to cash in on decades of effort by China to build itself up as a major power.

LANGFITT: That said, analysts don't think China's rapid rise is destined to end in war. For all their differences, the two nations do have things in common. Both are actually capitalist countries, with states still playing a huge role in China. Both want peace in East Asia and nukes out of North Korea.

Huang Jing at National University of Singapore says this isn't a new Cold War.

HUANG: It's very fundamentally different. Soviet Union challenged the entire value system. It's a fundamental struggle. It's like either you or me. But China tried to integrate into the international community. China has to change itself in order to fit it.

LANGFITT: And for all of Xi Jinping's outward self-confidence, he faces more challenges at home than President Obama - a slowing Chinese economy, a smarter, more critical public, and uncertainty on how he will keep China's spectacular rise on the rails.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai.

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