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Bush Meets China's Next Dictator

Wednesday, 01 May 2002 12:00 AM

In the closed-mouth manner of the Bush White House foreign policy, little more could be discerned.

Hu Jintao, the 59-year-old Chinese vice president, expected shortly to receive his country's top post, met Wednesday with Vice President Dick Cheney for talks and lunch, went to the Pentagon, where he met with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and was ushered into a private meeting with Bush about 3:45 p.m.

Shortly after 4:15 p.m., an affable and smiling Hu came out the White House West Wing doors, took the salute of the U.S. Marine and answered shouted questions of Chinese reporters with a cheery exchange in their native language. The reporters told their American colleagues that Hu had said his meeting with Bush was "quite good."

Later the White House said Bush and Hu discussed the war on terrorism, agricultural issues, Taiwan, missile proliferation, trade and human rights.

President Bush didn't say it was a good meeting, but his press secretary said Bush "noted there may be some disagreements, but he believed they could be addressed productively."

As in Bush's visit to China earlier this spring, Wednesday's meeting has enormous portent for the administration. China's aging President Jiang Zemin will step down in the next two years. This visit will give Bush officials a chance to see his successor close up, though Bush was already introduced to Hu in Beijing.

Since the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, the entire U.S. strategic posture in Asia has shifted. U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and other former Soviet republics in Central Asia, and the United States has formed an operational alliance with Pakistan to destroy al-Qaeda and capture its leader, Osama bin Laden.

At the same time, the United States still has 37,000 troops in South Korea and recently sent 1,000 special operations forces to the Philippines to assist the government in tracking down Muslim rebels.

In Beijing, Bush lauded the Chinese for their support of the U.S. war on terrorism.

Bush visited China only weeks after labeling North Korea, long a Chinese client nation, one of the "axis of evil" countries for developing weapons of mass destruction and marketing them around the world. Bush asked Chinese dictator Jiang to bring North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il to the conference table. Earlier this week, the North Korean regime signaled it was ready to open talks.

China historian Merle Goldman of Harvard told Voice of America that Wednesday's meeting was of equal importance to Hu. She said Jiang had not appeared to have the rapport with Bush that Hu, only four years Bush's senior, may develop.

"This is important for China to set up a working relationship with the United States," she said.

Human-rights issues and China's treatment of dissidents has often dominated U.S.-Sino relations. Earlier this week, China detained Yang Jianli, a Boston activist who returned to China after 13 years.

White House aides said the meetings were unlikely to be dominated by Yang's plight, but human-rights issues were sure to come up.

Powell said Tuesday the United States presses the "Chinese on human rights. We press them on proliferation activities. We press them on issues of concern to us, but at the same time, we cooperate with them."

For his part, Hu was expected to bring up U.S. support of Taiwan, the independent nation Beijing regards as a renegade province. When Bush was questioned by students at a Beijing university during his trip, they pressed him on why the U.S. interfered with Taiwan becoming part of Red China.

The U.S. position is that it has treaty obligations to Taiwan, and any change in national status would have to be the choice of the Taiwanese people.

Hu, like many Chinese leaders, is an unknown quantity in the West. He was born in Anhui, one of China's poorest provinces, but was educated at Qinghua, one of the country's top universities. Trained as a hydroelectric engineer, after the Cultural Revolution, he returned to Beijing in 1982 and has worked his way up in the party and government structure. Dan Ewing, writing for the conservative Nixon Center, said: "Hu holds firmly to social stability and his past actions may open him to criticism from Western governments. Unlike Jiang, Hu was directly involved in forcibly quelling major social unrest when he presided over a crackdown on a Tibetan uprising in 1988."

Hu also delivered an angry speech about the United States after U.S. bombs mistakenly hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The United States apologized for the error.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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In the closed-mouth manner of the Bush White House foreign policy, little more could be discerned. Hu Jintao, the 59-year-old Chinese vice president, expected shortly to receive his country's top post, met Wednesday with Vice President Dick Cheney for talks and lunch,...
Wednesday, 01 May 2002 12:00 AM
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