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Mild Buzz on Capitol Hill For China's Hu Visit

Monday, 17 April 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. –- Approaching the eve of Chinese President Hu Jintao's April 20 journey to Washington, some commentators see protocol rather than substantive progress as the likely emphasis of the heralded state visit.

Despite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent styling of the Asian giant as a new "military superpower," and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte view of that nation as a "peer competitor," Capitol Hill staffers who recently gathered at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation forecasted fluff and a limited Chinese Public Relations agenda.

One panelist, Peter Yeo, Democratic deputy staff director of the House International Relations Committee, said that he expected "80 percent fluff," noting that the key Chinese agenda for the visit was to illustrate to the world how the U.S. superpower is treating China with respect.

"The visit is really being treated by the Chinese as a symbol of Chinese ascendancy," Yeo said.

Yeo added that he expected the always-touchy subject of human rights to be addressed in general rather than specific terms.

On the subject of Taiwan, Yeo noted cynically that Hu most likely would be seeking to prod President Bush into repeating his controversial statement of Dec. 2003 that in his opinion the leader of Taiwan was causing tension in the region with his saber-rattling rhetoric – a position Yeo notes was not popular on the Hill, owing to strong support for Taiwan.

As to whether the trip was stirring a lot of interest on Capitol Hill, Yeo noted, "If you look at the top five issues, China is not likely to be one of them."

Although the themes of the visit could address such volatile issues as North Korea, Iran, energy security, China's military buildup, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights, trade imbalances, and Taiwan, Yeo says he is "not convinced of concrete deliverables. We've gotten what we are going to get."

Yeo does see reason for some optimism, since he perceives an overall better climate today in U.S. – Chinese relations – despite such dramatic bumps in the road as the singling out of China in the U.S. quadrennial defense review, the record high trade deficit and the missile buildup covering the Taiwan Straits.

He attributes the overall good vibrations to the fact that there is a "staying power to this relationship." He also credits the current quality of the English-speaking Chinese diplomatic corps who are "far more savvy than before."

Yeo had no opinion as to whether the Hu visit was purposely timed to coincide with the Congressional Easter recess, but conceded that some embarrassing hearings might have been scheduled that would have "rained on the parade."

"There may be hearings anyway," he noted.

Panelist Evelyn Farkas, a professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee noted that if there was any current focus on China in the Senate today it was on economic issues.

"[China is] not at the forefront of thinking of most senators on Capitol Hill," she concluded.

Farkas also noted what she perceived in the Senate as a "nuanced approach to China."

Most members, she opined – on the subject of U.S. foreign policy – look at China as a "lukewarm friend."

She did note, however, a perception in the ranks that the "administration should be putting more pressure on China to solve the North Korea issue."

As to the Chinese government and U.S. defense policy, Farkas said that in her opinion the Senate had a "wait and see attitude."

Jason Thomas, an economic policy analyst for the Republican Policy Committee, went through an exhaustive litany of trade and monetary issues – none of which would see substantive progress as a result of the state visit.

Thomas, however, noted with alarm that sooner or later, "Congress will have no choice but to engage in a debilitating trade war – unless China changes its course."

"The analyst said that the Chinese should heed as a strong warning the fact that 67 Senators refused to table the Schumer-Graham amendment seeking reform of the Chinese currency manipulation that pegs the Chinese yuan to the dollar, a device that creates an unfair playing field for U.S. and world manufacturers and traders.

He further noted that the Chinese demand for energy has become a salient issue on Capitol Hill.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Approaching the eve of Chinese President Hu Jintao's April 20 journey to Washington, some commentators see protocol rather than substantive progress as the likely emphasis of the heralded state visit. Despite Secretary of State Condoleezza...
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Monday, 17 April 2006 12:00 AM
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