Chinese President's Debut Visit to US Canceled

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16pm EDT

( - Because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Chinese President Hu Jintao has agreed to cancel a scheduled visit to the United States. Analysts say neither Washington nor Beijing was entirely happy about the visit anyway.

Coming at a time when relations between the U.S. and China are strained on several fronts, the visit was seen as a compromise between Washington's desire for a substantive "working summit" to thrash out tough issues and Hu's hopes for his first trip as leader to be marked with all the pomp of a state visit.

The White House balked at a state visit, and what had been planned fell somewhat short - an Oval Office meeting, lunch and a 21-gun salute, but no dinner.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a weekend statement that President Bush and Hu had spoken by phone.

"Both presidents agreed that, in the present circumstances, it was best not to have a meeting in Washington next week," he said, adding that they would meet on the sidelines of the major United Nations gathering in New York City, scheduled for Sept. 14-16.

Hu's visit would be scheduled at "another mutually convenient time."

China's foreign ministry confirmed that the decision to cancel the visit stems from the crisis faced by the American government in handling the Katrina disaster.

Ministry spokesman Qin Gang also said Beijing had offered $5 million in aid for the relief effort and would send a rescue and medical team to help, if needed.

Hu was also to have stopped over in Seattle, where the program included a visit to Boeing and a dinner at Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' home, but the Washington state government said that leg of the visit also had been cancelled.

Although relations between the U.S. and China have long been affected by issues like China's claims to Taiwan and human rights, recent years have seen the emergence, re-emergence or deepening of other contentious disputes.

These include trade and currency tensions; Chinese concerns about "encirclement" by U.S. forces in Central Asia and the Pacific; differences over the role of Japan as in increasingly important strategic player; Beijing's military buildup; non-conventional weapon proliferation; and energy competition in Latin America.

A failed bid last month by a Chinese oil company closely linked to the communist government to buy out American oil and gas producer Unocal brought accusations of politically-motivated opposition by elements in the U.S. suspicious of China's growing clout.

Two weeks ago, China held its first joint military exercises with Russia, in a drill that apparently was intended to send warning signals to both the U.S. and Taiwan.

Analysts who take a more optimistic view of the relationship point to Beijing's decision last July to make a small adjustment to its currency policy. Critics have long accused China of pegging the yuan artificially low against the dollar to boost Chinese exports.

The U.S. and China also found accord last month in their opposition to a bid by four nations -- Japan, Germany, Brazil and India, known collectively as the G4 -- to obtain permanent seats on an expanded U.N. Security Council.

Jamestown Foundation senior fellow Willy Wo-Lap Lam pointed out in an article last month that China's U.N. envoy, Wang Guangya, said at the time: "There are many areas of consensus [between China and the U.S.] on the reform of the Security Council."

"While Washington officials would not necessarily characterize the two countries' similar stance on the G4 proposal as an instance of 'cooperation,' Wang's statement illustrated Beijing's eagerness to explore commonality of interests with Washington on a wide range of global issues," Lam argued.

The State Department has highlighted China's role in the multilateral effort to defuse the North Korean nuclear crisis, although observers differ over the extent to which Beijing is pressurizing its ally to disarm. China's treatment and repatriation of North Korean refugees continues to draw strong criticism in Congress and from human rights organizations.

Before the decision to cancel Hu's visit was made, Heritage Foundation senior research fellow John Tkacik said the Chinese saw the trip as a chance to demonstrate their country's rise to global prominence.

From the American perspective, however, the trappings of a full state visit "would not properly reflect a relationship that is beset with serious political, diplomatic, military, strategic and trade frictions."

It was unfortunate, Tkacik said, that there would be no "working summit" at Crawford or Camp David, which would have provided the opportunity for Bush to raise a range of issues and forced Hu to address "the tectonic shift of strategic distrust between Washington and Beijing."

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