For Xi, the itinerary was carefully negotiated to convey high-level significance and minimize the chance of making news or, worse, any gaffe.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to take over from President Hu Jintao as leader of China’s ruling Communist party at the 18th congress in October, and as head of state in March 2013.
Outside the gates of the White House, a few hundred protesters marched, waving Tibetan flags and calling for a free Tibet. Underscoring the sensitivity of the rights issues among China’s critics, they held signs proclaiming, “Xi Jinping: Tibet will be free.” They shouted “Stop lying to the world.”
Inside the Oval Office, Obama assured Xi: “It is absolutely vital that we have a strong relationship with China.” The visiting leader smiled and looked at ease in his first formal meeting with the U.S. president.
Xi said that his meetings in Washington, to be followed by stops in the Iowa heartland and then California, were aimed not just at better political ties but a deeper friendship with the American people. By the end, he may even take in a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game, said a smiling Obama, a hoops fan himself.
Xi is known for being adept at forming personal connections, particularly in comparison with Hu, who has often appeared stiff and staid around Obama. In comments at the State Department, Xi cited a couple of old proverbs and even a Chinese pop song to make his point about the ever-changing US-China relationship.
This week is essentially one big get-to-know-you tour, from the halls of power to the farmland of Iowa, which he visited as a lower-ranking government official in 1985. He will have access to many power brokers while in Washington, including Cabinet secretaries, leading lawmakers and, most of all, Biden, his host.
“We are not always going to see eye to eye,” Biden said as the day began with talks in the Roosevelt Room. “We are not always going to see things exactly the same, but we have very important economic and political concerns that warrant that we work together.”
The timing comes as the United States remains in dispute with China on multiple fronts.
Even as Xi was soaking in his welcome, the top U.S. military officer was pressed at a Senate hearing about alleged Chinese computer hacking. Joints Chief of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey said someone in China was responsible but he declined to blame the Chinese army for targeted electronic break-ins of U.S. government and corporate computer networks.
The United States accuses China of tolerating electronic theft and industrial espionage, but U.S. officials are reluctant to tie those crimes directly the Chinese government.
The U.S. is also deeply at odds with China and Russia for their vetoes of a tough U.N. Security Council resolution this month that called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step aside. Washington accuses Beijing of protecting rogue regimes such as Syria, where the bloodshed rages daily.
Privately, Obama told Xi he was disappointed with China’s veto of the U.N. Syria effort, said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed meeting. Obama pressed Xi anew over China’s currency, which the U.S. says is undervalued, but praised China for helping to keep pressure on Iran regarding its disputed nuclear program.
More broadly, China and the U.S. are also increasingly rivals in the Asia-Pacific region, with Washington’s traditional alliances competing with China’s economic and cultural influence. China sees the U.S. as encouraging skepticism and dissent among neighbors in the region while trying to undermine communist rule by encouraging civil liberties and human rights causes.
On Iran, China shares U.S. alarm about a possible Iranian nuclear bomb but has blocked consideration of the toughest international sanctions, including an international embargo on Iranian oil. China is Iran’s largest customer for oil.
White House spokesman Jay Carney assured that Obama privately brings up “all of these issues” of concerns with Xi and other Chinese leaders.
The Washington Post