WASHINGTON (AFP) – Chinese President Hu Jintao, feted at the White House on Wednesday, faces a rougher welcome a day later from top US lawmakers who shunned his state dinner and branded him a "dictator."
Hu was to meet Thursday with leaders of the US Congress, home to frequent, ringing denunciations of China's rights record and currency policy and sharp criticisms of its role in nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea.
The visiting Chinese leader was notably to 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 US President Barack Obama's invitation to attend a state dinner in Hu's honor at the White House on Wednesday, without saying more than that they planned to holds talks with him one day later.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, just back from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, also declined to attend the glitzy affair and 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, who had been asked about the prospects for cooperation in divided Washington.
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.
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. America is counting on us," 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.
And some of their colleagues denounced China over its human rights record, citing Beijing's imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher condemned Obama for welcoming Hu "as if he had the same stature and acceptability here as a democratic leader" and said the United States should build bridges to China's people directly.
"Those are our allies. What do we do to them when we welcome their oppressor, their murderer, the one who's murdering their children, here to the United States with such respect?"
His comments came after Obama made a veiled, yet clear reference to China's human rights record as he welcomed Hu to the White House.
"The world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being," Obama said.
Hu called for greater cooperation and mutual exchanges between the US and Chinese peoples but said both powers "should respect each other's choice of development path and each other's core interests."
Republican US House Speaker John Boehner has turned down a White House invitation to attend a state dinner this week in honor of Chinese President Hu Jintao, his office confirmed Tuesday.
Asked why Boehner had opted to skip the glitzy and highly symbolic Wednesday event, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel replied: "Speaker Boehner will have a substantive meeting with President Hu later this week."
Steel declined to elaborate, but Republicans have been critical of President Barack Obama's decision to hold a state dinner for Hu at a time when Washington has been sharply critical of Beijing's record on human rights.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters he did not know why Boehner had turned down the invitation and that Obama had invited congressional leaders of both parties as guests to the event.
"We hope that because of the importance of the relationship that they would attend," said Gibbs. "I don't know why he (Boehner) declined on this occasion."
© AFP 2013