CHINA / National

President Hu looks to charm Americans
Updated: 2006-04-15 09:54

On a whirlwind trip to the U.S. next week, the normally reserved president of China will look positively chatty, giving three speeches in four days.

Chinese President Hu Jintao's turn in the international spotlight carries a bold purpose: charming an America wary about China's growing economic and diplomatic clout.

He'll talk trade matters to a business crowd at an aviation museum outside Seattle, discuss international issues with the policy elite in Washington and address historical trends at Yale University.

"These speeches are an appeal to the American public," said Jin Canrong, an international affairs specialist at Beijing's Renmin University. "He wants to show that China's development is peaceful, that China is a responsible stakeholder."

It's a tall order. On his trip, which begins Tuesday, Hu faces a bumpy period in U.S.-China relations. From issues like trade, once the bulwark of relations, to new security worries like energy and Iran.

"There's a pressing sense in some circles that China is taking advantage of international conditions," said Jonathan Pollack of the U.S. Naval War College.

China has sought to brighten the atmosphere for Hu. Beijing dispatched a vice premier and 200 business executives to the U.S. to sign $16.2 billion in deals, among them an order for 80 mid-size Boeing 737s. China also agreed to stepped-up protections against product piracy.

But both sides also are talking tough. Hu will raise the perennial sore spot of Taiwan.

Twice in recent days, Bush has vowed to press China for fair trade practices, singling out the Chinese currency, which the U.S. says is undervalued, makes Chinese exports cheap and has contributed to a ballooning trade deficit with China.

In its quest for resources to feed the juggernaut economy, China has cozied up to Iran and Venezuela, countries the Bush administration is at odds with, and made inroads with governments Washington has long courted. Immediately following his U.S. stay, Hu travels to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

At discussions in Beijing this past week, Chinese officials drew a red line over energy, telling the U.S. that China "will look for oil where they can find it," a senior U.S. official said.

Both sides realize that these issues, no matter how heated, are long-term ones that won't be resolved at any summit. Bush and Hu have managed to build a working relationship if not a warm one, meeting at least four times last year, administration officials have said.

"Each side is making continuous efforts to adjust to the other's legitimate interests," said Shen Dingli, an America watcher at Shanghai's Fudan University.

That workmanlike approach, however, is often lost on the American public and makes the public diplomacy of Hu's trip all the more important, according to international affairs experts.

"He has got to put, in as benign terms as he can, China's long-term transition," said Pollack of the Naval War College.

Each of Hu's speeches and stops are being designed to reach a different but crucial American constituency, an occasional policy adviser to Hu said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In Seattle, it's business, dining at Bill Gates' home and touring Boeing Co. before making the economic-oriented speech. In Washington, it's the policy-making apparatus, and at Yale, it's the cultural elite.