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Chinese Leader's First Stop on US Trip Focuses on Trade Issues


Chinese President Hu Jintao is in the United States for his first visit as his country's leader. His trip started Tuesday in the western U.S. state of Washington, where his meetings with American corporate leaders are throwing the spotlight on economic issues. He meets with President Bush in the White House on Thursday.

Experts say Hu Jintao's U.S. visit is likely to focus on trade, so his tours of two U.S. companies in Washington state, Microsoft and Boeing, come as no surprise.

The U.S. computer software company Microsoft is the largest in the world. The visit there is important, since China last week announced it was going to sell computers in China with pre-loaded software, as part of efforts to curb pirated software. Meanwhile, China also recently announced a multi-billion dollar deal to purchase 80 Boeing aircraft.

Economic relations between the two countries are important, especially since China currently has a $200 billion trade surplus with the United States. But the American Enterprise Institute's Phillip Swagel says he thinks there is too much attention being paid to economics, at the expense of other important issues. "I think the focus on the currency and some aspects of the economy is really a waste of time, at best, and at worst, a distraction from important issues, like Korea, Iran," he said.

Security issues also loom large for Randall Schriver, a former State Department official who now works for private international consulting firm, Armitage International. Other issues he would add to the list include Taiwan, South Asia and energy security.

The two leaders were originally to have met last year at all-day meeting at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. But that meeting was cancelled because of Hurricane Katrina. Now Schriver says the two sides may not have enough time to cover all the subjects. "We were supposed to have this [Bush-Hu meeting] last September, before [Hurricane] Katrina. But the U.S. invitation was originally for Hu Jintao to visit at Crawford and to have very extensive, full-day consultations with President Bush. And I think that would have been such a forum where they could have gone into greater detail and depth on a whole range of issues, including security issues. I think that won't be the case in a short Oval office meeting and lunch," he said.

Meanwhile, human rights activists are also unhappy with the focus on trade and economics. Groups like Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the International Campaign for Tibet are voicing concern that human rights issues will be overlooked, during a meeting Tuesday of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

"As President Bush prepares to meet with President Hu Jintao this week, I.C.T. urges him to forcefully, in his private meetings and his public appearances, to raise the issue of the dismal state of human rights right now in Tibet," he said. "Reporters Without Borders is calling on President Bush to raise the issue of news censorship and repression against journalists and cyber-dissidents, when he meets with President Hu Jintao in two days."

Critics accuse U.S. computer companies of helping Beijing censor the Chinese public's access to the Internet. In the most serious example, Yahoo provided information to the Chinese government that was used to imprison a dissident for 10 years. The companies say they are only following Chinese law.

Amnesty International's T. Kumar says it is ironic that President Hu is having dinner Tuesday with hundreds of American businessmen, at the Washington state home of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. "President Hu will arrive today and he will have parties at Microsoft chairman's house. We have Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, everybody who was involved in helping Chinese enforce censorship," he said.

The Washington state stop, with its emphasis on business and trade ties, is just part of the Chinese leader's U.S. visit. He is also going to the White House for talks with President Bush on a wider range of issues, including security and human rights. Mr. Bush said he is looking forward to the meeting. "The president of China is coming to Washington on Thursday. It is a very important visit," he said.

From Washington, President Hu visits Yale University, before leaving the United States Friday.

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