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Symbolism and Substance Important to Visit by Chinese President to US

Chinese President Hu Jintao is undertaking his first visit to the United States as head of state. Officials and analysts say his overriding goal is to reassure Americans that China's development should not be viewed as a threat, and is positive for the United States. But his trip comes against a backdrop of heightened U.S.-China tensions over trade and other issues.

When Hu Jintao embarks on his first trip to the United States since becoming China's president, he will not get what analysts say he most wanted: a formal state visit.

Bonnie Glaser is a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C. "One important thing that I think Beijing really wants out of this summit is the dignity of being treated like a very important power, and Hu Jintao being representative of that rising power.

The fact that Washington has not been willing to give Hu Jintao a state visit I think is probably a source of dissatisfaction to the Chinese."

China experts say U.S. and Chinese officials spent months arguing over the protocol for Mr. Hu's meeting with President Bush, such as whether Mr. Hu will receive a 21-gun salute (he will) and whether he will be given a state dinner (he will not).

Analysts say the wrangling over how the Chinese president will be hosted at the White House indicates how much is at stake for Mr. Hu's prestige back home. They say Mr. Hu wants to prove to his audience in China that the United States is not trying to contain China's rise as a global power.

Evan Medeiros is a China expert at the RAND Corporation research group in Washington D.C. "First and foremost, the Chinese are looking for an acknowledgment from the United States that China does not represent both an economic and security threat to both the United States and to regional order in the Asia-Pacific region."

Mr. Hu will be visiting the United States just as U.S.-China tensions have increased.

The Pentagon said in a recent report that China's rapid military modernization could threaten Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory. And Washington remains concerned about Chinese efforts to gain more access to U.S. technology.

Trade disputes have further irritated relations. U.S. and Chinese negotiators have failed to reach an agreement on limiting Chinese textile imports to the United States. U.S. lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the trade deficit with China, now 162 billion dollars. And although China recently raised the value of its currency by two percent, many in Washington complain that the revaluation is not enough to stem a rising tide of cheap Chinese imports.

Ms. Glaser says Washington hopes this summit will enable progress on a broad range of issues. "As China's presence, influence has grown and become increasingly global, the United States really wants to work together with China in other parts of world where China is becoming more diplomatically active, and some of its policies are running against or counter to American interests."

For example, China does not support sanctions on the Sudanese government, despite what the United States calls Khartoum's genocidal policies in Darfur.

Some in Washington warn that the United States and China could be headed for a state of "strategic distrust."

Randy Schriver is a former State Department official for East Asian affairs. "I think this does require, as I said, some proactive effort to try to arrest this. If not, I think we run the risk of waking up five, eight years from now in a much worse situation, where we're not just competitors or rivals, but we're real adversaries."

Still, most China experts say that when Mr. Bush meets with Mr. Hu, he will emphasize ways in which the United States and China can cooperate further. High on the U.S. agenda is how the two countries can persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.

Analysts say Mr. Hu will also have a unique opportunity to reach out to Americans and put a human face on China.

Mr. Medeiros says Hu Jintao can do a lot of good, "Because China is becoming so much more important and central to the lives of most Americans in ways unimaginable 10 years ago, Hu Jintao can do a lot of good by meeting with ordinary Americans, interacting with them, and showing them that China represents an opportunity, or at least doesn't threaten them."

Mr. Hu will have about a week and several public appearances to make his case to the American people.