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Hu Goes to Washington to Ease Sino-US Trade Tensions

Chinese President Hu Jintao heads to Washington this week for his first official visit to the White House. Mr. Hu will seek to appease growing anger in the U.S. over what some Americans say are China's unfair trading practices. Mr. Hu also hopes to try to convince Washington and the American people that China's economic rise and its rising profile in Asia are no threat to U.S. interests.

Standing outside an American fast-food restaurant in downtown Beijing, 27-year-old Ya Li - a resident of the capital - expresses dismay that anyone in the United States would see China as a threat.

"We are still a developing country. We are still developing our economy, giving it priority. Furthermore, we cannot threaten other countries," Ya says.

A number of Chinese polled, like Ms. Ya, say they do not understand the anger that has been rising in the United States, largely over the Chinese exports that have been flooding the U.S. market.

The flow of Chinese goods bloated the U.S. trade deficit with China to more than 200 billion dollars last year - the highest on record. Some Americans blame the imbalance for the loss of U.S. jobs and many accuse the Chinese government of keeping its currency weak to keep its exports strong and discourage imports of American goods.

The Bush administration also says the deficit has been fueled in part by Beijing's failure to crack down on China's illegal copying of U.S. trademarked products.

President Bush says he is looking forward to his April 20th meeting with Mr. Hu, but has put the Chinese leader on notice that he hopes China is prepared to take real action to ease U.S. trade concerns.

Chinese officials have given no indication they will make any concrete concessions of the type the Bush administration seeks on this visit. They say, instead, that the trip's agenda will focus on resolving trade disputes through consultation, and on improving China's image. Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi briefed reporters on Friday ahead of Mr. Hu's departure.

"This visit will increase mutual understanding and promote relations between the two countries. This visit will play a very significant role in this aspect," Yang says.

As part of an image-building campaign ahead of the visit, a delegation of Chinese officials and businesspeople led by Vice Premier Wu Yi toured the United States, signing billions of dollars' worth of contracts for the purchase of airplanes, software, auto parts, farm products and other items.

On Friday, the government eased some restrictions on foreign exchange dealings, making it easier for companies and individuals to acquire foreign currency to use in investments or travel overseas.

China's new efforts to appease U.S. anger follow the introduction of legislation in the U.S. Congress to impose tariffs and other sanctions on Chinese products.

Yuan Zheng is a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank in Beijing. He says the Chinese see American retaliatory actions on trade as dangerous to overall relations.

"This is confrontation, which will backfire. The Bush administration has been leading the development of China-U.S. relations in the last couple of years and it has done a good job. Trade problems can be solved through negotiations," Yuan says.

The Chinese appear to have made modest headway in their campaign to ease tensions. Washington has welcomed recent promises to increase U.S. access to Chinese markets and improve enforcement of intellectual property rights.

Those promises came from Wu Yi at a meeting a few days ago of the U.S. China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. China agreed to reopen its market to U.S. beef and lower other trade barriers. Vice Premier Wu also announced plans to open 50 trial courts to deal with copyright infringements.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez called the Chinese pledges a positive step, but said much work remains to be done.

Chinese officials have given no indication that they will make any concessions on other sensitive fronts, such as China's human rights record, which U.S. officials say they consider an important part of the meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Hu.

The United States has repeatedly condemned China for systemic abuses, including the jailing and torture of dissidents, repression of independent religious activity and tight control on the media.

As he has on every other meeting with Mr. Bush, the Chinese leader is expected to raise the issue of Taiwan, and call on the United States to stick with its position that there is one China and Taiwan is part of the country.

Another of Mr. Hu's tasks on this trip will be to ease U.S. concerns about its military buildup, which some in Washington believe may be aimed at preparing for an eventual attack on Taiwan. The mainland government has vowed to eventually reunify with the self-governed island, by force if necessary.