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China, US to grapple with changing ties

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Pundits say the trade dispute is the white elephant in the room when Chinese President Hu Jintao talks with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House this week. Chinese experts say how to build mutual trust and to convince Washington that China's development is not a threat remains critical for the two giants.

Chinese President Hu Jintao will travel to the United States this week aiming to build trust and convince Washington that China's rise is not a threat. [AFP]
The April 18-21 trip, Hu's first visit to the United States as president, will take him to the Boeing and 微软 plants in Seattle and then to Washington DC where he will hold a summit with President Bush and meet with US politicians and business leaders. Hu is also scheduled to make a speech at the famed Yale University where Bush has studied.

"We hope this visit can push forward both sides to look closely at the importance and necessity of developing Sino-US relations from a strategic and long-term perspective," Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters in a briefing in Beijing.

While trade and world affairs will likely dominate discussions, the two nations will also grapple with what kind of relationship they want to build at a time when distrust mixes with a recognition of the need to work together, analysts said. They said that Beijing has responded positively to a Washington call for it to act as a "responsible stakeholder".

"Cooperation means win-win, confrontation means lose-lose," said Zhu Feng, an expert on Sino-American relationship at the Beijing University.

Hu's trip comes as the world's largest economy and the biggest developing country face growing trade disputes, especially over China's currency. Washington believes the yuan is undervalued, giving Chinese exports an advantage and contributing to its record trade deficit.

China says its good competitiveness lies in its inexpensive labor cost, urging the United States, its second-largest trade partner, to keep buying Chinese goods. It also called Washington to lift the export ban on what China wants -- high-tech US products -- and allow China to make investments in the US in order to narrow the trade gap.

More importantly, Hu will seek to dispel US fears of China's rising might, by reassuring Washington that Beijing is a responsible global partner.

"China believes mutual trust is lacking and that is at the root of tensions between the two countries, be it trade, military spending or human rights," said Tsinghua University analyst He Maochun.

"It believes the United States still views China from a Cold War perspective and that it sees China as a threat. China meanwhile is suspicious the US wants to contain China."

The United States for its part will urge Beijing to increase the value of its currency, further open its massive and lucrative market to US companies and products, and crack down on piracy to reduce its trade deficit, analysts said.

It would also request help from Beijing, one of five permanent members on the UN Security Council, to deal with international issues, including the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea, they said.

Eager to fend off pressure, China preceded Hu's visit with a US shopping spree last week, signing contracts worth 16.2 billion dollars, including the purchase of 80 Boeing aircraft.

This could persuade US politicians to stop beating on China, at least for now, said Paul Harris, a Sino-US relations expert at Hong Kong's Lingnan University.

"Money talks," said Harris. "They're targeting the spending in the industries and geographic constituencies that really matter."

On Taiwan, which Beijing considers a part of its territory awaiting reunification, Yang indicated President Hu will seek further reassurance from Bush that the US will discourage Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian from pushing his pro-independence agenda.

"We hope that the United States ... will not send any wrong signals to Taiwan secessionist forces," Yang said.

Chinese officials expressed optimism about the trip, but analysts were less hopeful.
"The differences are hard to be narrowed, but the two countries could find more channels to resolve their differences and will have more experience in solving future problems," Tsinghua University's He said.


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