WASHINGTON (AP) — China’s Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington’s power centers is boosting his international profile but offering little insight into the man destined to rule the world’s most populous nation.
On Wednesday, America could start to learn a little more. Xi is due to meet congressional leaders, address business executives and policy experts and then journey to the Iowa heartland, where he’ll reconnect with people who hosted him on a 1985 study tour.
On Tuesday, Xi stuck to a tightly scripted and packed schedule. It took him from a lengthy meeting with President Barack Obama to an elaborate reception at the State Department and full military honors at the Pentagon before a meeting with business leaders inside the grand stone edifice of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
His grand reception — never has a visiting vice president received a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon — reflects the importance the Obama administration sees in its relations with China, a major economic and trading partner but also an emerging military rival.
Xi is set to lead China for the coming decade, succeeding President Hu Jintao as Communist Party leader late this year, then becoming president in 2013.
He is widely regarded as more adept than the stiff and staid Hu at making personal connections, but he will not call the shots on policy until he fully takes the reins of power.
The diplomatic rhetoric he used in his appearances Tuesday was tried and tested, echoing the tone of the state visit to Washington by Hu a year ago.
He did, however, hint at a personal touch with his eclectic use of proverbs. They ranged from traditional Chinese, to the words of the 17th century British thinker Francis Bacon and even the lyrics of a 1980s theme song from a popular TV adaptation of a classic Chinese novel. He used the song, titled “Where Is the Path?,” to describe the uncertainties of charting the future of U.S.-China relations.
Both sides emphasized the promise and importance of greater U.S.-China cooperation — although the soothing diplomatic words were punctuated with frank recognition of the differences that exist between them on human rights, economic disputes and worsening foreign crises, particularly the violence in Syria.
Vice President Joe Biden alluded to a deterioration in human rights in China and U.S. concern over several prominent dissidents. Xi responded as Hu did when he met Obama last year by defending China’s rights record but saying it could always do more.
A couple hundred flag-waving Tibetan protesters and other sympathizers of the exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, kept up noisy anti-China demonstrations throughout the day near the White House, but they did not derail the ceremonials.
Inside the Oval Office, Obama assured Xi, “It is absolutely vital that we have a strong relationship with China.” The visiting leader smiled and looked at ease in his first formal meeting with the U.S. president.
On the policy front, Biden announced some progress on areas of U.S. economic concern.
He said China informed the U.S. it would move forward with tax reforms this year that would increase imports and promote domestic consumption, a step away from its export-driven growth model, which the U.S. says contributes to America’s burgeoning trade deficit. Biden also described an opening for foreign companies to sell auto insurance in China as an important step in overhauling the finance sector.
But Biden repeated U.S. concern over subsidies for Chinese state-owned companies and the forced transfer of technology as a condition for U.S. companies doing business in China. He also described the Chinese currency as still “substantially undervalued” against the dollar, which the U.S. contends hurts its exporters.
Xi urged the U.S. to lift restrictions on high-tech exports to China and create a level playing field for Chinese companies to invest in the United States.
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