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US, China look for smoother future with VP visit
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 11, 2012

The United States and China will try to set the stage for a smoother relationship during a visit by China's likely next president, but neither side is under illusions about resolving deep disputes.

Vice President Xi Jinping, who is in line to be the fast-growing Asian power's leader until 2023, will enjoy treatment usually reserved for a head of state including a White House meeting Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

In a bid to show a softer image both at home and abroad, Xi will also tour Iowa to mingle with Midwesterners he met years ago on a first US visit as well as Los Angeles where he will greet young Americans who are learning Chinese.

With China's transition and US elections approaching later this year, White House officials said they did not expect major announcements and pledged to make clear to Xi the longstanding US concerns on a range of issues.

"It's mostly an investment in relationship-building, even as it's also an opportunity to continue to press the items on our agenda with the Chinese," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.

US politicians have persistently raised complaints about Beijing's currency value, saying it is kept artificially low to boost exports, along with what they see as weak protections for intellectual property.

The United States has also been concerned over human rights, including the communist state's growing detentions of critics and clampdown in Tibetan areas, and was stung when China backed Russia in vetoing a UN resolution that would have pressed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end escalating violence.

Still, the Obama administration has put a priority on reaching out to Xi in hopes of a more cooperative future relationship between the two powers. Vice President Joe Biden toured China in August and spent around 10 hours in total with Xi, a highly unusual amount of time in an era of whistle-stop diplomacy.

"In Asia generally, but in China certainly, relationships matter, and high-level relationships particularly matter," said Danny Russel, Obama's top adviser on Asia policy.

"It allows us to set expectations to reduce misunderstandings. It helps us to build confidence and avoid surprises in either direction," he said.

Chinese leaders have been deeply suspicious of US intentions. Obama, despite budget pressure at home, has put a priority on boosting military strength in Asia with plans for more US troops in the Philippines and Australia amid charges that Beijing is increasingly assertive toward its neighbors.

In a recent speech, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai warned of a "trust deficit" between the two countries and called on both sides to "seriously address" the gap.

Nina Hachigian, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, warned of a "dangerous dynamic" in which economically insecure Americans see China as more of a threat than it is, fueling fears among Chinese that the United States wants to contain it.

Hachigian said that US leaders, while pressing China to follow "international norms and rules," also had the opportunity to show Xi that the United States welcomes a prosperous China.

"If we don't trust each other's motives -- which we don't -- then having that personal connection and understanding can temper our suspicions to some degree," she said.

Despite the focus on Xi, officials and experts said that China's system was too opaque to know if he would seek -- or even be able -- to make changes once he succeeds President Hu Jintao.

Barry Sautman, an associate professor at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said that Xi's public record put him "straight down the middle" and that he is unlikely "to sharply depart from the current policy mindset that exists among Chinese leaders."

Derek Scissors, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, said it was uncertain how much influence Xi would hold on the decision-making National People's Congress Standing Committee.

China is increasingly ruled by leadership consensus and Xi lacks the standing of Hu, who rose through the ranks with the blessing of Deng Xiaoping, modern China's seminal leader, Scissors said.

"It's like insurance," Scissors said of Xi's visit. "If he turns out to be that important, then it's good to build up a rapport -- it can't possibly hurt. But the personality traits are secondary to his position within the party."

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Xi Jinping, Chinese 'princeling' and heir apparent
Beijing (AFP) Feb 12, 2012 - Xi Jinping, the son of a revolutionary hero who worked his way up through the ranks of the Communist Party, is all but certain to be named China's next leader in a generational handover of power.

Appointed vice president in 2008, Xi has an impeccable communist pedigree that makes him one of a group of elite politicians known as "princelings" whose rise is due partly to their family lineage.

The 58-year-old, a portly figure who is married to a famous Chinese singer and has a daughter at Harvard, has emerged from the shadows in recent years with state media giving in-depth coverage of his meetings with dignitaries and foreign visits.

But in the fractious and secretive world of China's Communist party, observers have found it hard to pin down Xi's allegiances, and his political views have been kept a closely-guarded secret.

Xi's father was Xi Zhongxun, a communist revolutionary who fought alongside Mao Zedong, only to fall victim to one of the Chinese leader's infamous political purges before rising again under the new leadership of Deng Xiaoping.

Xi's early years were marked by the chaos of the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s when, like so many other young educated Chinese, he was ordered to the countryside to mix with the peasant classes.

He was sent to the coal-rich but inhospitable northern province of Shaanxi and remained there until 1975 -- a year after he joined the Communist party -- when he enrolled at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University.

Over the next 30 years, Xi gained recognition as an experienced manager, culminating in the leadership of two key economic provinces, Fujian and Zhejiang, before moving to the top post in Shanghai in 2007.

Later that year, he won a place on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body, before being named vice-president.

But it was Xi's promotion to vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission in 2010 that confirmed him as the clear front-runner to succeed current President Hu Jintao in 2013.

Despite his expected promotion, the ordinary person on the street in China may know Xi best for his long-time marriage to Peng Liyuan, a well-known singer who is also an officer in the nation's military.

Some analysts say he was anointed mainly because his revolutionary pedigree made him a compromise, status quo choice acceptable to Hu, former president Jiang Zemin and other power-brokers.

Many believe he will be politically conservative, limited by what is seen as one of the weakest power bases of any incoming Chinese president, in an era in which decisions are increasingly made collectively by the party's top leaders.


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US to raise trade, rights, and Syria with China VP
Washington (AFP) Feb 10, 2012
The United States said Friday it would raise concerns about trade, human rights and Syria during a closely watched visit by China's likely next leader next week, despite hopes to improve ties. White House officials said they would seek to send a message to Vice President Xi Jinping that the United States welcomes China's rise, but that Beijing was testing the patience even of supporters of t ... read more

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