President Obama will welcome Chinese president Hu Jintao to Washington, D.C. this week for three days of talks — and the first U.S. state dinner thrown for a Chinese leader in 13 years. The last time Jintao came to the U.S. was in 2006, when he reportedly left displeased at President George W. Bush's refusal to hold a state dinner. Obama has okayed a banquet and reportedly set an ambitious agenda for the series of talks. Here, a forecast of issues that could come up — and verdicts on the odds that Obama will win concessions:
Letting the Chinese currency appreciate in value
Washington has long accused China of purposefully undervaluing the yuan, undermining the global export market by making its own products cheaper. U.S. lawmakers have even pledged congressional action to fight back against China's exchange-rate policy, and have pressured the president to make it a central issue in this week's talks.
Verdict: Obama will not "make much headway" on the yuan, says Don Miller at Money Morning. Hu made it "abundantly clear" before arriving in the U.S. that the present "dollar-dominated currency system" was a "product of the past." We have some sympathy for that stance, say the editors of The Wall Street Journal, and China has reason "to question the Federal Reserve's stewardship of the dollar." The problem is that China hasn't "given much thought to what a new system would look like." We'd hope the U.S. will responsibly continue to "encourage China's economic rise" by building a "robust trading partnership," rather than focusing on currency conflicts. (Watch a Fox News discussion about Hu Jintao's recent comments)
Shrinking the U.S. trade deficit
China's restrictions on foreign companies entering its domestic market are frustrating American executives, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called on Beijing to reduce barriers to U.S. imports last week, reports The New York Times. It's certain Obama will echo that call. "Geithner's speech set the tone very clearly about what they are trying to do," says economist Eswar Shanker Prasad.
Verdict: It's unlikely that Obama will succeed, says Austin Ramzy at Time. Both sides will "put on a bright show of cooperation," but "it isn't expected to last for long." Almost as soon as the talks are over, Obama is set to displease Hu by selling arms to Taiwan. And China knows that "on global economic issues," says Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy, the United States needs China more than China needs the United States.
Reforming human rights in China
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explicitly criticized China's human rights record last Friday, even going so far as to specifically cite its imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo. That could mean Obama will finally challenge China on its silencing of pro-democracy voices after months of avoiding the matter. "Ms. Clinton has made a good start," says The Washington Post. "Mr. Obama must now reinforce the message."
Verdict: Hu will try hard to deflect criticism of China's human rights policies, reports Ewan MacAskill in The Guardian. The Chinese leader said upon arriving in Washington that the U.S. and China must "respect each other's choice of development path," which is "code for not interfering in each other's domestic agenda." But Obama has pledged to stay strong, says Anne Penketh at The Hill. "At the very least, it should produce the resumption of a human-rights dialogue between the two countries that allows the U.S. to raise specific cases with China."
China's military, and support for North Korea
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Beijing last week and let it be known that the U.S. would counter China's military build-up in the Pacific. Obama will specifically want to take on Hu over China's tacit support of North Korean aggression, says The Wall Street Journal. The president must make it clear he is "determined to block China's power plays in its neighborhood and beyond."
Verdict: Gates' visit to Beijing signaled a "resumption of high-level military-to-military ties," says Austin Ramzy at Time, which is a slight improvement in relations. Alas, Obama's 18 months of projecting "weakness" has done its damage, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. "Unless China's leaders feel there are consequences" to their actions, "they will discount Obama's words and keep on their current course."