WASHINGTON (AFP) – Chinese President Hu Jintao comes face to face with some of his sternest critics in the US Congress on Thursday as he pursues a high-stakes visit to the United States.
Hu was to meet with leaders of the US Congress, a source of frequent ringing attacks on China's rights record and economic policy as well as sharp criticism of its role in nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea.
President Barack Obama's pressed Hu to embrace "universal rights" and pushing Beijing to set a "level-playing field" for US firms in China and battle intellectual piracy were unlikely to soothe congressional anger.
But the message from Congress was likely to be less conciliatory.
Historically high US unemployment and an unpopular decade-long Afghan war, coupled with China's economic and military rise, have fed a narrative of US decline and fueled resentments of Beijing among the US public.
The visiting Chinese leader will sit down separately with Republican House Speaker John Boehner -- the third-ranking US elected official -- and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Both lawmakers declined Obama's invitation to attend a formal gala dinner in Hu's honor at the White House on Wednesday, saying they planned to holds talks with him the following day.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, just back from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, also declined to attend the glitzy affair.
He planned to be in his home state of Kentucky on Thursday, missing Hu entirely.
And Reid raised eyebrows late Tuesday when he told a television interviewer in his home state of Nevada that Hu was "a dictator" -- before quickly regretting the remark.
"I am going to back to Washington and meet with the president of China. He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have," Reid told KSNV television.
"Maybe I shouldn't have said 'dictator,' but they have a different type of government than we have -- and that is an understatement," said Reid.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a frequent, vocal critic of China's rights record, planned to attend the state dinner as well as the bipartisan House leadership meeting on Thursday, her office said.
In a statement she said: "Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, there has been bipartisan concern in the Congress about the human rights situation in China and Tibet, the support of the Chinese government for rogue states, and China's unfair trade practices, which have ballooned our trade deficit from $5 billion a year to $5 billion a week."
Climate change and clean energy had also become key issues, Pelosi added.
"It is my hope that Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States is marked by candor and progress on these issues."
House foreign affairs committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen planned to hand Hu a copy of a letter she wrote to Obama urging he not accept "superficial assurances" from Hu on "security, human rights, and economic issues."
"We need to provide leadership that inspires the American people to face the global challenges of a rapidly rising China," Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said in the letter, made public by her office.
And 84 lawmakers of both major US parties wrote a letter to Obama pleading with him to make clear that, with historically high unemployment, "America's patience is near an end" with China's alleged unfair competition.
"We can no longer afford to tolerate China's disregard" for international trade rules, said the group, led by Republican Representative Thaddeus McCotter and Democratic Representative Mike Michaud.
Other lawmakers have warned they will introduce legislation to counter what they charge is Beijing's strategy of keeping its currency, and therefore its exports, artificially cheap when compared to their US competition.
Some of their colleagues denounced China over its human rights record, citing Beijing's imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
© AFP 2013