- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The closely structured pageantry of a state visit was unable to mask simmering issues between the United States and China on Wednesday, as President Obama prodded Chinese President Hu Jintao to revalue the Chinese currency, the yuan, and Mr. Hu acknowledged “a lot still needs to be done” on his country’s human rights record.

Highlighting deepening business ties, the two men agreed to deals Mr. Obama said are worth $45 billion and 245,000 jobs to the U.S. economy. And together they pledged to boost education and cultural exchanges to try to deepen ties between the world’s two biggest economies and ease mutual suspicions.

“We welcome China’s rise; we just want to make sure that that rise is done, that that rise occurs, in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules and enhances security and peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict, either in the region or around the world,” Mr. Obama said as he stood alongside the Chinese leader at a joint press conference.

In a series of events complete with all the pomp of a state visit, the leaders greeted each other on the White House’s South Lawn, courted U.S. businesses, toasted mutual diplomatic relations and sat down to two dinners — the first a private affair on Tuesday and the second a full state dinner on Wednesday, when the menu included dry-aged rib-eye, pear salad, Maine lobster and apple pie, accompanied by three wines.

Mr. Hu will travel later this week to Mr. Obama’s hometown of Chicago, where he will meet with more business leaders.

But in Washington, he offered a rare moment of introspection about his country, calling for understanding as China grapples with massive growth over a short period of time.

China is a developing country with a huge population and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform,” he said through a translator. “In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development. And a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights.”

The candid admission was accompanied by repeated warnings that good U.S.-Chinese relations depend on respecting “each other’s core interests.”

China’s exceptional economic growth, combined with its restrictive political system, alarm some in the United States, who say the country has not proved to be a helpful actor on the world stage and that it continues to repress religious and political rights at home.

“Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, there has been bipartisan concern in the Congress about the human rights situation in China and Tibet, the support of the Chinese government for rogue states, and China’s unfair trade practices, which have ballooned our trade deficit from $5 billion a year to $5 billion a week,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who was on the guest list for the state dinner.

Other top congressional leaders, however, declined invitations to attend.

Mr. Obama said he expects the two countries to enter an era of cooperation on peace and security, and “friendly competition” over economic supremacy. Aware of the focus on what divides the two countries, Mr. Obama cautioned both sides to “not view every issue through the lens of rivalry.”

The meeting — Mr. Hu’s eighth with Mr. Obama, but his first state visit to the U.S. since 2006 — comes after a somewhat rough patch in relations. U.S. observers charge that China undervalues its currency and has not been helpful enough in trying to restrict the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

U.S. businesses also argue that China doesn’t protect intellectual property, which strikes at a key part of the U.S. economy, even as Chinese manufactured goods continue to gain a foothold in the U.S.

Mr. Obama said that Microsoft, the software producer, estimates that only one in 10 users of its products in China has paid for them.

Mr. Obama said Mr. Hu agreed to do more to combat intellectual-property theft.

He said he does not see China’s rise as a threat and took pains several times to outline the exact nature of the economic relationship, pointing out that the U.S. economy is still nearly three times the size of China’s and that China is not the U.S.’s biggest trading partner.

Mr. Obama said both of those statistics suggest room for China to grow and for U.S. businesses to seek new customers.

“We want to sell you all kinds of stuff,” Mr. Obama said. “We want to sell you planes. We want to sell you cars. We want to sell you software.”

For his part, the president acknowledged U.S. failings — including the staggering federal debt, much of it held by China, and the U.S.’s slackening manufacturing sector.

“We’ve got to save more in this country. We’ve got to cut back on these huge levels of debt,” Mr. Obama said.

The joint press conference was marred by technical difficulties in translation, which Mr. Hu said caused him to miss an initial question about China’s human rights record.

In the end, the two men opted for a live translator instead of a simultaneous translation earpiece.

Even the body language of the two men was notable. Mr. Obama repeatedly turned sideways to face Mr. Hu during the Chinese leader’s remarks, while Mr. Hu stared forward during Mr. Obama’s remarks, though he did crack a smile when Mr. Obama joked about Mr. Hu’s bravery in deciding to visit Chicago in winter.