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But as NPR's Jackie Northam reports, it's unlikely there will be any big breakthroughs.
JACKIE NORTHAM: President Hu's visit to Washington will include all the trappings bestowed on the leader of a great and highly regarded nation, including a 21-gun salute and two dinners with President Obama. Charles Freeman, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the Chinese take protocol seriously and that the U.S. is showing respect for China.
CHARLES FREEMAN: It's important to the Chinese and I think, you know, it's important to the White House to try to demonstrate that it really does view the president of China and the Chinese relationship as extremely important to both U.S. and to global strategic interests.
NORTHAM: Nina Hachigian, the China specialist with the Center for American Progress, says this evening's intimate setting can help establish a better personal connection, to help overcome the growing mistrust that has been the hallmark of U.S./China relations in recent years.
NINA HACHIGIAN: The relationship between the two leaders is something that can really overcome that very pervasive dynamic of deep paranoia on both sides of the Pacific and deep distrust of each other's motives and that personal contact and not just for, you know, half an hour on the side of another meeting, is really critical.
NORTHAM: In a speech last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said China's currency was significantly undervalued. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was sent to China to meet with his counterparts. He later said the U.S. had to keep up with China's military buildup. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought up the issue of human rights during a sweeping speech about U.S./China relations in the 21st century.
HILLARY CLINTON: America will continue to speak out and to press China when it censors bloggers and imprisons activists, when religious believers are denied full freedom of worship, when lawyers and legal advocates are sent to prison simply for representing clients who challenge the government's positions.
NORTHAM: The Center for American Progress' Hachigian says despite the many points of contention, there are areas of cooperation between the U.S. and China. She says the U.S. wants a stable relationship with China, which is a growing economic, military and political powerhouse. But Hachigian says a constant point of tension for the U.S. has been China's unwillingness to accept the responsibility that goes along with that, including helping solve global problems.
HACHIGIAN: We're reaching out our hand and asking China to work with us on these global problems. But China hears that and thinks it's another Western trap designed to bleed their resources. It's just another way in which we're trying to keep them down.
NORTHAM: The Center for Strategic and International Studies' Freeman says with luck, the summit will set the tone for better relations, but he doesn't expect much more.
FREEMAN: We have such an extensive and intense engagement on every level with China, government and non-government alike, it's hard to say that one meeting is going to define the relationship. It simply doesn't work that way anymore.
NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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