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China's Leader Comes To U.S. Amid Tense Ties


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today, the president of China has dinner with President Obama at the White House. It's part of an effort to improve a strained relationship. As another part of that effort, China just announced $600 million in deals with American companies. Many Americans are suspicious or even fearful of a rising China. It turns out the Chinese don't think so much of us either. NPR's Louisa Lim has the view from Beijing.

LOUISA LIM: As President Hu arrives in the U.S., public opinion here in Beijing appears to be hardening. A recent poll found that 80 percent of Chinese surveyed blamed the U.S. for the deterioration in ties. The financial crisis has hastened a geopolitical shift. Beijing's $907 billion in U.S. treasuries give it a new hold over Washington. Now the state-run mouthpiece, the People's Daily describes China as a money tree for the U.S. Jin Canrong from Renmin University in Beijing says Chinese officials have been caught off guard.

Professor JIN CANRONG (School of International Studies, Renmin University): The financial crisis not only changed the balance of power physically between China and the States, but also changed the psychological context. The States side, to some extent, is too sensitive - lack of confidence. That's a new phenomenon for China. It used to be China deal with confident, humorous United States.

LIM: For its part, China's not been shy about showing off its rising confidence, last week testing its prototype stealth fighter during the visit of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The past year has also seen increasingly assertive Chinese behavior in territorial disputes. And as some perceive a U.S. in decline, Chinese public opinion has been out ahead of the government on some issues. That could cause difficulties, according to Sun Zhe from Tsinghua University.

Professor SUN ZHE (Director of the Center for U.S.-China Relations, Tsinghua University): The cybernationalism is really high, the anti-American sentiment. Some people think that China cannot compromise to the U.S. in terms of RMB, the intellectual property rights and some other human rights issues. For both countries, we have to educate our own people on how important this bilateral relationship is.

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LIM: China's actively trying to brand its image in the U.S. Here local media report on a new campaign launched yesterday in Times Square, showing Chinese celebrities. And Beijing's also concerned with gaining appropriate respect for its new status.

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LIM: President Hu's last visit to the White House in 2006 was marred by protocol errors, particularly when the welcome ceremony was interrupted by a protestor from the Falun Gong sect, which is banned in China. Kenneth Lieberthal from the Brookings Institution says the Chinese were also dismayed they hadn't been granted a state dinner.

Mr. KENNETH LIEBERTHAL (Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy and Global Economy an Development, Brookings Institution): There were additional incidents that occurred that I think never made it into the public domain. But, for example, there was a demonstration in Lafayette Park, right next to the presidential guesthouse. And that demonstration kept President Hu up until late at night from all the noise.

I'm certain the White House this time is spending a lot of time and effort to make sure that similar things do not occur on this visit.

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LIM: This time there will be the pomp and circumstance of a state dinner. But Lieberthal cautions against high expectations. Instead he points to recent progress, such as the Chinese currency's appreciation, a more active Chinese role on North Korea and the restoration of military ties.

Mr. LIEBERTHAL: Most of the deliverables for this summit have already been delivered. So in a variety of areas that are very important, the Chinese have moved significantly in the run-up to the summit. That's part of what you use the summit for.

LIM: And many Chinese academics believe that President Hu should be assuring President Obama that actually Beijing isn't really seeking change. Jin Canrong again.

Prof. CANRONG: China should make it more clear to the States that China is a status quo power, China prefers the maintenance of current international regime, and because China itself benefits a lot from that.

LIM: In short, despite the hype, the new relationship may not look that different from the old one. Given China's dual identity as both a strategic partner and a strategic competitor, many here fear it can only be a matter of time before any feel-good vibes from the summit dissipate into yet more friction.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.