CHINA / Foreign Media on China

It's lunch for President Hu during US visit
Updated: 2006-03-24 14:18

The U.S. and China, at odds over currency policy and trade, are now bickering over another diplomatic issue -- what to call President Hu Jintao's planned visit to Washington on April 20.

Chinese officials are describing the trip as a "state visit," Chu Maoming, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said. The White House isn't.

"We've told the Chinese that we understand that they label any visit by President Hu to a foreign land as a 'state visit' under their definition of his travel," Frederick Jones, a spokesman for President George W. Bush's National Security Council, said.

"We have also told them that we will not be referring to it as a 'state visit,' because each visit to the White House is unique," he added.

Hu will have lunch with President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and dignitaries, rather than a formal dinner, the distinguishing feature of a state visit.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked yesterday if the visit would be accorded "state" status, responded, "It's a visit by President Hu is the way I would describe it."

The protocol dispute, more than a matter of simple semantics, reflects the tensions between the U.S. and China on a range of economic and foreign policy matters and also the expectation from White House officials that they won't achieve much during Hu's time in Washington.

Yuan Pressure

Congress is weighing punishing China with tariffs unless the Chinese government loosens the managed exchange rate and allows the yuan to rise. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, now on a visit to China, said at a congressional hearing on March 16 that "the fundamental disconnect between us and China is that we have a conscience and they don't." Such an anti-China atmosphere makes feting Hu with a black-tie, lavish state dinner at the White House impossible, analysts said.

"They don't want to elevate" the visit, said Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "There are enough tensions within Congress, enough big-ticket issues that are likely to be contentious."

China has complained at the World Trade Organization that the U.S. is using national security exemptions in an "excessive way" to limit foreign purchases of U.S. companies, undermining confidence in the U.S. business environment. The comments follow the rejections of an attempt by Dubai, United Arab Emirates- based DP World to buy U.S. port operations and a bid by Chinese- owned Cnooc Ltd.'s to purchase Unocal Corp. for $18.5 billion last year.

No 'Hoopla'

Asked whether the White House's refusal to afford Hu the full honors of a state visit wouldn't increase friction with China, Economy said, "When they weigh the risks to the U.S.- China relationship against the domestic politics of this particular point in time, certainly there's not much to sort of mandate a reward for the Chinese."

"There's nothing that the Chinese bring to the table that allows the Bush administration, frankly, to surround this visit with a lot of hoopla," she added.

Still, Hu will receive full military honors at a White House arrival ceremony that will feature a 21-gun salute. And he will stay at Blair House, the official White House guest residence across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bush has offered the state dinner honor to only a handful of visiting leaders, including Mexican President Vicente Fox and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Hu hosted a dinner for Bush when he visited China last year. The Chinese leader's visit to Washington was postponed from September because of Hurricane Katrina.