Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend the U.N. 60th anniversary summit in New York on September 13. Before his U.N. mission, he is scheduled to visit Canada, Mexico and Washington, D.C. and have meetings with the North American leaders.
The U.S. trip will be the first one for Hu Jintao since he came to power in March 2003. Publicly, the meeting between Hu and Bush is expected to focus on issues over trade, Taiwan relations and North Korea’s nuclear program, among other things.
But the Chinese President seems to be more concerned with the scale of his U.S. reception than what will be talked about in the meeting. After more than two years since his ascension to the top position in China, Hu is eager to break out of the shadow of his predecessors and establish his own legacy. The visit to North America, particularly the meeting with U.S. President Bush, is therefore a very significant event, designed to bolster his image back in China as a recognized world leader.
Initially, Bush offered his Texas ranch to accommodate Hu, a perfect opportunity to discuss bilateral relations in a more relaxed environment and make real progress. But in the Chinese leader’s mind, "barbecue at Bush’s ranch" would be too casual and not in keeping with his image. Hu prefers a formal "state visit," complete with red carpet, a 21-gun salute at the White House, a state banquet, and joint statements before the media.
Prior to the trip, China demonstrated its goodwill toward Washington in expectation of a "state visit." On July 21, Beijing announced for the first time that it would allow the Chinese yuan to appreciate by two percent; on July 26, it restarted the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons; and on July 28, it announced the purchase of 50 airplanes from Boeing.
These gestures were not enough for Washington to grant him a "state visit." Instead, Hu was offered a "working visit" to meet with Bush for one hour at the White House on September 7. There will be no state banquet, either. White House spokesman Trent Duffy told reporters, "It is not an official state visit." Instead of a state dinner, Bush will host a luncheon for Hu at the White House.
To the Chinese leader, such an offer from Washington must be very disappointing. In order to save face, China’s state-run media continues to interpret it as a "state visit." In response to reporters’ questions, the spokesperson of Foreign Affairs Ministry Qing Gang stated, "Invited by President Bush, President Hu Jintao will make a state visit to the United States between September 5 and 8." Nevertheless, Hu should have gotten the message—the United States is wary of the course that China is taking.
Before Hu took office, many people had high expectations for him, believing that he would loosen China’s political controls, which would lead to a more open society. But the signs so far indicate that Hu is continuing the communist tradition and assuming an even harder-line approach. Hu is particularly strict on media control and has even vowed to learn from Cuba and North Korea to govern the country.
On August 2, 2005, China issued new rules restricting foreign investment in cultural products and media in China. According to the new government regulations reported by China’s state media, Xinhuanet, China will not permit any more overseas satellite television channels to land on its mainland and will not allow any foreign investment in the country’s news media.
Hu is also applying greater pressure on Taiwan. At the 2005 National People’s Conference, China passed a secession law giving China the "right" to attack Taiwan at any perceived signs of Taiwan independence. Beginning on August 18, 2005, China held an unprecedented, joint military exercise with Russia on China’s Shandong Peninsula. The eight-day military exercise involved nearly 10,000 troops from the two armies, navies, and air forces as well as airborne units, marine corps and logistics units. Although China, which footed the bill for the joint exercise, stated that it was not aimed at any specific target, many viewed Taiwan and the United States as the imagined enemies. Following the exercise, China also signed a massive arms deal with Russia to further put pressure on Taiwan and the United States.