- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2010

BEIJING | China’s president will attend a nuclear security summit in Washington this month, signaling a fresh start between the superpowers amid a chill in relations over Beijing’s unhappiness with U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and a meeting with the Dalai Lama.

It was not clear prior to Thursday’s announcement whether President Hu Jintao would attend the U.S.-hosted event because of a number of contentious issues that have soured U.S.-China ties this year.

Mr. Hu will stop in Washington for the April 12-13 summit on his way to Brazil, Venezuela and Chile.

“The nuclear security summit will mainly discuss the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and the corresponding measures of countries and the international community,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a news briefing Thursday.

He called it an important multilateral meeting, and said China hoped it would “yield positive results.”

Mr. Qin would not say if Mr. Hu would meet President Obama for bilateral talks during his visit. The spokesman said the U.S. and China shared a key diplomatic relationship, and maintaining healthy ties depended on “respecting each other.”

Mr. Hu’s trip was billed as specifically tackling nuclear issues. If all goes smoothly in the coming months, Washington plans to play host to Mr. Hu again in the fall with all the pomp of a state visit.

The Foreign Ministry called in U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman on Thursday morning to tell him Mr. Hu would attend the Washington summit - a positive message after weeks of being summoned for harangues over American policies.

“Where have we been in the last few months? We’ve been in the penalty box,” Mr. Huntsman told a meeting of U.S. business executives later Thursday. He predicted relations would now steadily improve.

However, two major problems still loom on the horizon. Pressure is rising in Washington for the Treasury Department to name China a “currency manipulator” for pegging the yuan to the U.S. dollar, making Chinese exports cheap, critics say.

The Obama administration also wants a largely reluctant Beijing to stand with other permanent U.N. Security Council members in backing new sanctions on Iran - a key energy supplier to China - over its nuclear program.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saaed Jalili, met with senior Chinese officials Thursday, presumably lobbying China to hold firm after Beijing signaled in U.N. talks it was willing to consider new sanctions against Tehran.

Recent American moves have infuriated Beijing. China suspended military exchanges after a U.S. decision earlier this year to sell $6.4 billion in military hardware to Taiwan.

The sale of helicopters, missiles and other weapons came before Mr. Obama had a White House meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of trying to separate Tibet from China.

“We’re pleased that China is coming to the event,” deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One. “We have an important relationship with China, one in which there are many issues of mutual concern that we work on together.”

In another about face, senior representatives of the Democrat and Republican parties were in Beijing this week for talks with the Communist Party. The Democrats were led by former party chairman Howard Dean and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The Republicans were led by former U.S. special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson.

The Americans met Wang Jiarui, who heads the Communist Party’s international affairs office. Vice President Xi Jinping also met the group and urged them to remove “disturbances” that might disrupt ties, Xinhua News Agency said.

While Britain’s Labor Party and other Western democratic parties have held such parleys before, the talks were the highest-level discussions ever between American and Chinese politicians, helping burnish the Communist Party’s international credentials.

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