Friday, March 24, 2006

About the only thing lacking from Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit with President Bush next month will be the title of “state visit” — at least as far as the Americans are concerned.

Mr. Hu will arrive on the White House South Lawn on April 20 to full military honors and a 21-gun salute, will stay at the Blair House and will be hosted at a ceremonial lunch complete with a dignitary-filled guest list. But there won’t be a state dinner, the defining event of a state visit.

“It’s an official visit; it’s a visit, is the way I would describe it,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters yesterday.

The Chinese, however, insist it is a state visit.

“At the invitation of U.S. President Bush, President Hu Jintao will pay a state visit to the U.S.,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters this week.

Asked whether the name matters, Chu Maoming, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said: “President Hu Jintao will pay a state visit to the United States.”

China argues that every time Mr. Hu travels it is a state visit, while the Bush administration is far more limited. Though Mr. Bush has hosted dozens of leaders, he has hosted just four state visits: the leaders of Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines and Poland.

“Each visit, in our view, is unique,” Mr. McClellan said. “My understanding is that when President Hu travels to a foreign country, that the Chinese refer to that as a state visit.”

Mr. Hu was scheduled to visit in September but that visit was rescheduled because of Hurricane Katrina.

This visit comes at a time when members of Congress are pushing the Bush administration to be tougher on trade relations with China. They argue that the yuan, China’s currency, is undervalued, giving China an unfair advantage in exports and leading to a large trade gap between the two nations.

Scholars on U.S.-China relations said the difference in names won’t matter much.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big kind of conflict between the White House and China because they’ve basically agreed to let the other side call it what they want,” said Adam Segal, a senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Richard C. Bush III, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said the U.S. designation shouldn’t be seen as a snub.

“If it was something like that, we wouldn’t do the 21-gun salute on the White House lawn,” he said.

As for why the White House doesn’t go the extra mile and make it an official state dinner, the Brookings scholar said, “I could say something snide about our president and his bedtime, but I’m not going to go there.”

The Washington Times reported in January that the Pentagon wants to have ready for the visit a new policy on U.S.-China cooperation in space rescue missions, in case something goes wrong during a U.S. or Chinese manned spaceflight.

Officials from both nations said yesterday the agenda is still being set.

“The two governments are still consulting on schedule and the issues to be discussed during the visit,” Mr. Chu said.

Though the White House has announced the date and the details of protocol for the visit, Mr. Qin wouldn’t even tell reporters a specific date, saying only that the visit was “in mid or late April.” He said China would announce specifics later.

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