- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

NEW YORK (Agence France-Presse) China's leader-in-waiting, Hu Jintao, viewed the crater left when airborne terror strikes felled the World Trade Center and visited the citadel of U.S. capitalism yesterday, after his diplomatic "coming out" tour reached New York.

Mr. Hu made a 10-minute visit to ground zero, as the ruins of the World Trade Center, toppled with the loss of about 3,000 lives on September 11, have become known, city officials said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Hu warming up for critical talks in Washington with President Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, where a number of firms key to China's economic emergence are listed.

He also met New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was scheduled to see United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Mr. Hu embarked on the official portion of his six-day visit to the United States in New York after a weekend stopover in Hawaii.

Barring a major political earthquake, Mr. Hu, 59, is expected to assume Chinese communism's top posts later in the year and eventually take the presidential portfolio of Jiang Zemin.

Mr. Hu's U.S. visit is seen here as an important diplomatic coming out party, and U.S. officials are eager to size up not only his character, but also his views on foreign policy.

The visit comes at a time when always volatile U.S.-China relations are showing new signs of strain, especially over the Bush administration's hawkish policy toward Taiwan.

Chinese officials carefully guarded Mr. Hu's schedule yesterday, apparently for fear of tipping off protestors, who have vowed to dog his every move in New York and Washington.

A dozen or so members from the Falun Gong spiritual group, which is banned in China, waited outside the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where Mr. Hu is staying.

"We have no posters, no protest slogans. We just want to show him a peaceful face," said Falun Gong spokesman Adam Montanaro.

Falun Gong activists, who claim their fellow devotees are severely repressed in China, are expected to be joined later by critics of China's rule over Tibet, as well as human rights campaigners.

Mr. Hu and his wife arrived in Hawaii on Saturday and were forced to run a gantlet of demonstrators bunched at his hotel in the plush Waikiki area for banquet for 200 guests thrown by the governor.

Between 60 and 70 pro-Beijing Chinese students studying in Hawaii faced off against supporters of mainland China's rival, Taiwan, along with members of the Falun Gong movement who oppose Mr. Hu's visit.

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