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US and Chinese leaders to tackle strained relations at White House

Eager to soothe tensions, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao are set to meet at the White House Wednesday. The leaders of the world's top two powers look for common ground on economic and security issues.


AFP - US President Barack Obama lays on the grandeur of a state visit for China's Hu Jintao Wednesday, in a meeting likely to merely put a cordial gloss on glaring differences between two great powers.

President Hu will be welcomed to the White House with full military honors, before Oval Office talks certain to dig down into broad areas of disagreement including currency policy, human rights and differing visions in Asia.

Later, in an event symbolizing the uneasy embrace between the world's most powerful advanced economy, and its fastest-developing new economic titan, Obama will host Hu at a meeting of US and Chinese business leaders.

Hu will then expect to face questions on China's human rights record and the incarceration of Obama's successor as Nobel peace laureate, democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo, at a White House press conference.

Obama and Hu will also likely spar over Washington's claims that China maintains its yuan currency at an artificially low level to boost its exports -- a practice American critics see as detrimental to US jobs and growth.

The White House meanwhile will be seeking to enlist further Chinese help on combating Iran's nuclear drive, cooling North Korea's belligerence and cooperation on ensuring a peaceful outcome to Sudan's independence referendum.

But few analysts expect major breakthroughs, forecasting instead a realistic appraisal of testing relations and a joint pledge by the United States and China to seek consensus where possible.

Hu flew into Andrews Air Force base late Tuesday to be greeted with full military honors, and headed to a rare, private dinner with Obama in the White House residence -- an honor accorded to few visiting leaders.

Officials declined to provide a readout of the meal, also including Secretary of State

Clinton: 'Openness and transparency' key to US-China ties

Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and two corresponding Chinese officials.

But the fact it took place hinted at the importance Washington attaches to perfecting the optics of Hu's visit and of the desire by officials here to ease tempers after rocky months for Sino-US relations.

Outside the north entrance to the White House, within view of the presidential mansion where Hu was dining, rights activists extended an all-day protest into the evening, chanting "Stop the Killing, Free Tibet."

On Tuesday, the two leaders will toast one another at a lavish state dinner and reception at the White House -- only the third such gala occasion of Obama's two-year presidency.

But in a sign of domestic political tensions whipped up by the crucial US relationship with China, the White House was forced Tuesday to defend Hu's invitation, and insist it would not mute US concerns on human rights in China.

"We will continue to have difficult conversations, but necessary conversations that have to be had with China and we'll do that again tomorrow," spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

"In order to make progress on certain issues you've seen the two countries work together, despite, again, continuing to have differences on things like continued economic growth and human rights."

The new Republican speaker of the House of Representatives however declined an invitation to the event, possibly making a point about human rights violations. Boehner will however formally meet Hu on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Hu's visit will mark the start of a turning point in US-China relations, as likely his last fully ceremonial journey to the United States before a power transition begins in China that will culminate in a new top leader in 2013.

The talks come at a time when when the United States is weakened by a slowly recovering economy and China's soaring expansion augments its growing power.

The White House has minutely planned the visit, with top members of Obama's national security team, frankly laying out areas of disagreement -- though also stressing the vital nature of workable relations to America's future.

While US officials have not been pulling punches, Hu has been willing to flex China's growing economic power, despite American complaints over his country's economic policies.

He implicitly criticized the Federal Reserve's decision to pump 600 billion dollars into the US economy in answers to questions submitted by the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

"The monetary policy of the United States has a major impact on global liquidity and capital flows and therefore, the liquidity of the US dollar should be kept at a reasonable and stable level," Hu said.

China has also been infuriated by the visit to Washington of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, last year.

The two sides have also been at odds over Chinese treatment of US intellectual property rights, Internet freedom, and naval rivalries in the Pacific, as well as US arms sales to Taiwan.

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