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China Leader to Attend Nuclear Meeting in U.S.

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  • China Leader to Attend Nuclear Meeting in U.S.

    April 1, 2010
    China Leader to Attend Nuclear Meeting in U.S.
    China Leader to Attend Nuclear Meeting in U.S. -

    BEIJING — President Hu Jintao of China will attend a nuclear security summit meeting in Washington this month, an indication that strained relations between the United States and China may be easing.

    Until the announcement on Thursday by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, American officials feared that Mr. Hu would boycott the talks to express China’s displeasure over a series of recent diplomatic clashes, including a White House decision to sell arms to Taiwan and President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.

    Relations appeared to hit a low point last week when Google, citing Chinese censorship, began redirecting users in China to its uncensored Internet search engine in Hong Kong.

    The confirmation that President Hu will take part in the summit meeting came less than day after the Chinese government appeared to throw its support behind new United Nations sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran over its nuclear program. In recent months, the five permanent members of the Security Council have been stymied by China’s insistence on diplomacy over sanctions.

    The Iranian nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, arrived in Beijing on Thursday for talks with China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi.

    “Your visit this time is very important,” Mr. Yang told Mr. Jalili before their formal meeting. “We attach great importance to China’s relations with Iran.”

    The content of their talks remained unclear and Qin Gang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, appeared to steer clear from any commitment for sanctions.

    “On the Iranian nuclear issue, China will continue to endeavor toward a peaceful resolution,” he said during a regular news conference on Thursday, emphasizing that the crisis should be resolved by “diplomatic means.”

    The president’s security meeting, scheduled for April 12 and 13, seeks to limit the proliferation of nuclear materials “so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists,” Mr. Obama said in announcing it in his State of the Union speech in January.

    Mr. Hu’s visit also will take place two days before the Obama administration is expected to decide on whether to accuse China of artificially suppressing the value of its currency. Pressure in the United States has been building in recent months to label China a “currency manipulator,” a prospect that has provoked growing consternation among Chinese officials.

    But given the potential for embarrassing the Chinese leader — and for sending bilateral relations into another tailspin — it would appear unlikely for such a decision to come on April 15, one of the deadlines set by Congress and the Treasury Department to issue a report on possible currency manipulation.

    Nicholas Lardy, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the Treasury Department can delay the deadline for weeks at its discretion, and the department has frequently used that provision over the years.

    “As a practical matter, they’ve got a lot of wiggle room,” he said. Mr. Lardy added that he thought it was unlikely that China would have agreed to a visit by Mr. Hu unless there was at least an informal assurance by the Treasury that China would not immediately be named a currency manipulator. “I don’t think the Chinese are looking for them just to punt it down the road,” he said.

    Relations between the two countries began to fray in November, soon after Mr. Obama came to China on a state visit that was more circumscribed than American officials would have liked.

    In the months that followed, tensions increased. American officials accused China of thwarting a climate change agreement in Copenhagen and Chinese leaders threatened to punish the United States for a $6 billion weapons deal for Taiwan. In February, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called in the American ambassador for a scolding about Mr. Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, whom China considers a separatist.

    On March 7, Mr. Yang, the foreign minister, said that it was up to the United States to repair the damage. The problem, he said “does not lie with China.”

    But then came a thaw. In recent days, public statements in Beijing and Washington hinted at fading tensions. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg declared that the U.S. did not support independence for Taiwan and Tibet. President Obama, during an event Monday for China’s new ambassador to Washington, offered generous praise for China.

    “I welcome a China that is a strong, prosperous and successful member of the international community,” he said. “Now is the time for our two great nations to join hands and commit to creating a prosperous future for our children.”

    The comments, widely circulated by the official Xinhua news service, prompted articles in the state-run press that highlighted the good will and common interests. The media lauded the White House for its new “positive attitude” toward China.

    On Tuesday, Mr. Qin, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, vigorously downplayed the recent discord between the two countries and hinted at a warming trend. “I’d like to reiterate that the undue disruption which China-US relations endured not long ago is in the interest of neither country and is not what we would like to see,” he said at a regular news conference.

    If the past is any guide, however, relations could easily sour given the multitude of differences between the two countries, most pressing of which is a trade imbalance that is stoking protectionist sentiment in Congress.

    Su Hao, director of the Center for Strategic and Conflict Management at China Foreign Affairs University, said the apparent rapprochement was probably temporary, given what he described as American intransigence on Taiwan and Tibet, two issues that he said are “China’s core interests” but peripheral to the United States.

    “Neither China nor America will remain unharmed if their bilateral relationship is abnormal and tense for long,” he said. “The United States should try refraining from provoking China any further.”

    Keith Bradsher and Mark McDonald contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Li Bibo contributed research from Beijing.
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