Thu January 20, 2011

Hu's Visit Yields Modest Results For Both U.S., China

Chinese President Hu Jintao winds up his visit to the U.S. Thursday with a visit to Capitol Hill and a brief stop in Chicago, where he will meet with American and Chinese businessmen and tour a Confucius center.

The Chinese leader spent a very busy day in Washington Wednesday, starting with a 21-gun salute on the south lawn of the White House, meetings with American and Chinese businessmen, and a state dinner in his honor. The lavish black tie affair at the White House was a mix of American businessmen, entertainers such as Barbra Streisand — a favorite of Hu's — and successful Chinese Americans.

Nicholas Lardy, an expert on the Chinese economy at the Peterson Institute of International Economics, says all this helped set a good tone for the summit.

"All the arrangements went off flawlessly, there were no gaffes as there have been in some earlier visits. That will look very good for President Hu back in China and frankly that was one of their main objectives," he says.

Lardy says both President Obama and Hu went out of their way to stress the potential for cooperation and benefits to both countries. He says while the Chinese leader got his high-profile welcome, the U.S. also got a number of things out of the summit, including $45 billion in Chinese trade and investment.

China also agreed to stiffen its enforcement of intellectual property rights and to soften its so-called indigenous innovation policies, which discriminate against American companies vying for lucrative Chinese government contracts. Lardy says all of this sounds good, but offers caution.

"What's really important is how certain commitments are carried out and the language always has certain ambiguities and one side will have one interpretation and the other side will have another interpretation," he says.

Hopefully in this case, he adds, the gulf between the two sides is very modest, but warns that until it's carried out, it may be premature to declare victory.

Lardy says there were other small signs of progress, such as promises to cooperate on climate change, clean energy and the environment. On the issue of human rights, Hu acknowledged that China recognizes and respects the universality of human rights. In a joint statement, China also expressed concern over a North Korean nuclear enrichment plant.

But there was no movement — at least in public — on U.S. concerns over China's currency, which analysts in the U.S. say is undervalued and harms American exporters. Obama addressed the issue during a joint press conference.

"We'll continue to look for the value of China's currency to be increasingly driven by the market, which will help ensure that no nation has an undue economic advantage," he said.

There was little expectation that all of the many issues on both sides could be worked out. The U.S.-China relationship is complex and often plagued with problems. Just over the past year, China stopped military-to-military relations after the U.S. sold weapons to Taiwan.

Evan Feigenbaum, the Asia director at the Eurasia Group, says this week's summit is an opportunity to help establish a personal bond between the presidents.

"After a year of particularly tense relation, the visit, even though it hasn't resolved a lot of those underlying structural issues, in a sense has improved the atmosphere a little bit, it's helped to clear the air a bit," he says.

Feigenbaum says the nature of U.S.-China ties now is going to be characterized by a series of issues that need to be worked through on an ongoing basis. Still, he says the U.S.-China relationship is now bigger than just government to government, and that domestic politics on both sides may do more to determine progress on critical issues than presidential summits. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.