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“So, for U.S. policy, what we’re looking at is a very great likelihood that we are going to wind up with a China that is going to be more assertive toward U.S. allies, more aggressive in some ways.”

Mr. Xi has a more emotional bond with the United States than Mr. Hu. Unlike Mr. Hu, who first traveled to the U.S. in 2002, Mr. Xi has visited the U.S. many times. He first came as part of an agricultural delegation in 1985 and stayed with a family in Muscatine, Iowa. Mr. Xi has a daughter who is studying at Harvard University.

“His U.S. experience should have given him some understanding of America. That is important,” said Mr. Wang.

Few expect Mr. Xi to present a softer image when it comes to human rights.

Mr. Yang, who took part in the 1989 pro-democracy protests, is pessimistic about the chances of an improvement in China’s human rights record.

“Human rights have taken a backseat [in the U.S.-China relationship], so in that sense Mr. Xi does not have to make any gestures of human rights improvement in order to maintain or improve the relationship with the U.S.,” he said.