> Top News
Obama kicks off first visit to China
By Hu Yinan in Shanghai; Li Xiaokun and Zhang Haizhou in Beijing (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-16 07:36

SHANGHAI: United States President Barack Obama arrived last night at Shanghai Pudong International Airport to kick off his first visit to China, and will begin negotiations that will likely take a more cooperative tone than that of his predecessors.

Obama kicks off first visit to China

The 48-year-old is the first US president to visit China within the first year of taking office. He will arrive in Beijing this afternoon during his four-day visit and meet President Hu Jintao, top legislator Wu Bangguo and Premier Wen Jiabao tomorrow and on Wednesday.

The China trip is also part of his first to Asia as president. In his wide-ranging speech in Japan on Saturday, Obama said he would welcome, not fear, a robust China as a powerful partner on urgent challenges.

"The rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations," he told 1,500 prominent Japanese.

"We welcome China's efforts to play a greater role on the world stage, a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility."

In recent years, the US has uttered harsher words about China. President George W. Bush pressured the nation about its currency rate, while president Bill Clinton prodded China on human rights.

Obama said Washington would work hard to build on newer relations with Asian nations such as China and Indonesia aside from strengthening alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Obama kicks off first visit to China

The White House said he plans to talk with Chinese leaders about re-evaluating the Chinese currency. Shared challenges such as the economic crisis, nuclear nonproliferation and energy cooperation will also loom large in discussions.

Obama's Air Force One landed in Shanghai at about 11:16 pm last night with Chinese ambassador to the US Zhou Wenzhong greeting him.

His motorcade of black limos then headed toward Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the city center. The hotel has been sealed off by local police.

Obama is expected to meet with local leaders in Shanghai this morning.

He is also scheduled to meet 300 local youths in the afternoon at Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. Most of them will come from Fudan and Tongji universities.

The meeting will last 75 minutes with Obama speaking for 15 minutes followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session. The event will be broadcast live online, according to Xinhua News Agency.

In the Obama craze that has caught on with many in Shanghai as well as in China, youngsters make up a large contingency of his fans.

A post on Xinhua's website that called for and collected questions that could be posed to Obama during the youth dialogue, has received more than 3,000 responses as of yesterday afternoon. T-shirts bearing Obama's image are also selling well in major cities.

The Chinese edition of his book The Audacity of Hope has sold more than 130,000 copies in China. The book and his other work, Dreams From My Father, are favorites of street vendors of pirated bestsellers.

The admiration among the youth "is great news for Obama", according to the Christian Science Monitor, a Boston-based newspaper. The paper said "the long-term future of US-China relations is dependent ultimately on the youth of China."

The White House earlier said the US leader's talks with Shanghai youngsters would be about the future of Sino-American relationship.

"They are the audience (Obama) should pay special attention to. If he can maintain popularity among them, his influence in China has high potential," said the newspaper.

Shi Yinhong, a senior international relations expert with Beijing-based Renmin University of China, said that Obama is likely to redefine China-US relations during his visit.

"He will readjust the 'responsible stakeholder and constructive partner' label of his predecessor George W. Bush, and add new meaning to relations," said Shi.

But Pang Zhongying, also from Renmin University of China and a former visiting fellow at Washington-based Brookings Institution, said what Obama actually does is much more important than what he says.

"It's Obama's trip-of-study to form his China view," Pang said.

"The important thing is to see what the visit can really bring (to bilateral ties)," he said, adding that both countries may find that their differences in opinion on some issues such as climate change may not be as vast.

Leaders from both countries will certainly "agree to disagree" on many other issues, he added.

Obama's itinerary in Beijing also includes sightseeing tours at the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

It is also reported that he might meet in Beijing his half-brother, Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo, who has lived in the southern metropolis of Shenzhen for seven years and speaks fluent Mandarin.

(China Daily 11/16/2009 page1)