U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to press his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on a variety of bilateral issues ranging from human rights to currency valuation, and from denuclearization to trade imbalance during their talks in Washington next week.
But experts and analysts sought to temper expectations of any immediate results from the White House meeting on Jan. 19 during Hu’s state visit, the first by a Chinese leader to the United States in 14 years.
Activist groups, including Tibetan and Uyghur minorities who say they face persecution in China, are expected to hold protests throughout the visit, which will begin in Chicago on Jan. 18.
Setting the tone for the meeting, Obama held a closed-door meeting with five China human rights advocates at the White House on Thursday, the first time he has done so in that venue as he moves to refocus attention on Beijing’s human rights record.
In a joint letter issued Thursday, several groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and Chinese minority rights groups, urged the U.S. president to demonstrate his administration’s commitment to rights issues in the world’s most populous nation.
But human rights “can’t be the only issue [as] we have many other important issues,” Winston Lord, former U.S. ambassador to China, told RFA in an interview.
“I hope the two leaders can set a course for the future that is constructive. There have been some problems in the last year or two,” he said.
“I think it’s important that we discuss our differences candidly but also try to keep moving forward with a positive agenda—whether it’s our economic difficulties or North Korea or Iran or the environment. These are some of the key issues where U.S.-China cooperation is very important, and there is a lot of room for improvement.”
The past year has seen relations turning tense at times. The two powers quarreled over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, North Korea’s deadly attack on South Korea, China’s perceived undervaluation of its yuan currency, Internet controls, human rights, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
U.S.-China relations are at a critical juncture, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday as she called for "real action, on real issues" such as trade, climate change, and North Korean nuclear proliferation at the upcoming summit.
She called on Beijing to let its currency appreciate faster, end discrimination against foreign companies, and further open its markets to U.S. manufactured goods and farm products.
The U.S. has also urged China to use its leverage to end North Korean provocations and bring the Kim Jong Il regime back to the six-party talks on denuclearization.
As the United States and China revive military-to-military ties that Beijing suspended in January 2010 over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Washington is pushing Beijing for special talks touching on China’s military modernization in a bid to underscore transparency.
But Chinese Defense Chief Gen. Liang Guanglie, in talks with U.S. counterpart Robert Gates in Beijing this week, rebuffed a U.S. plan for a clear timetable of deeper strategic military talks.
Obama, in his talks with Hu, may seek to establish a new bilateral dialogue on nuclear weapons, space, cyber, and missile defense, Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, predicted.
But Peng Guangqian, a Chinese military expert, said, “At present, the main obstacle is lack of mutual trust between the two nations. The responsibility does not lie with China. It lies with the United States, which has not yet given up its outdated Cold War mentality and behavior."
“This has harmed healthy development of China-U.S. relations. We must make great efforts on both sides to get back on track."
U.S.-China economic concerns are also expected to be on the table.
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner said that the United States and China are expected to grapple head on with their common economic concerns during Hu’s visit.
"You're going to hear us talk very openly and candidly about our concerns and our objectives in the Chinese market," Geithner told reporters.
"You're going to hear the Chinese talk about their concerns and their expectations for how to make sure they have continued access to U.S. technology, U.S. markets," he said.
The Chinese have signaled that they want foreign businesses to help develop their strategic emerging industries by entering joint ventures and by conducting more research and development in China, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.
"This is assistance that U.S. companies are eager to provide, so long as China deals meaningfully with concerns about intellectual property protection,” he said.
The U.S. business community has long complained that China’s laws on intellectual property protection are inadequate and impede innovation.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the architect of U.S.-China rapprochement in the 1970s, cautioned against expecting immediate results.
While U.S. diplomacy wanted “specific outcomes with single-minded determination," Chinese negotiators are “more likely to view the process as combining political, economic and strategic elements and to seek outcomes via an extended process," he said in an opinion piece.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.