Chinese President Hu looks for 'common ground' with U.S.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is making his first state visit to the United States.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2011; 12:51 AM

BEIJING - Chinese President Hu Jintao, who travels to Washington this week for a state visit after a year marked by disputes and tension with the United States, said the two countries could mutually benefit by finding "common ground" on issues from fighting terrorism and nuclear proliferation to cooperating on clean energy and infrastructure development.

"There is no denying that there are some differences and sensitive issues between us," Hu said in written answers to questions from The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. "We both stand to gain from a sound China-U.S. relationship, and lose from confrontation.''

To enhance what he called "practical cooperation" on a wide range of issues, Hu urged an increase in dialogues and exchanges and more "mutual trust." He said, "We should abandon the zero-sum Cold War mentality," and, in what seemed like an implicit rejection of U.S. criticisms of China's internal affairs, said the two should "respect each other's choice of development path."

Hu took aim at the international currency system, now dominated by the dollar, calling it a "product of the past." China has moved to make its currency, the renminbi convertible on international markets, and Hu pointed to Chinese efforts to boost its use in trade and investment. But he cautioned against any suggestion that the renminbi, also called the yuan, might soon become a new reserve currency. "It takes a long time for a country's currency to be widely accepted in the world," Hu said.

Hu, the secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party since 2002 and China's president since 2003, rarely speaks in interviews or gives news conferences. His last extensive comments to American media outlets came in 2008, in a joint meeting around the time of the Beijing Olympics. His last comments to Western media were in written format last November to a French and a Portuguese newspaper.

Under the ground rules, Hu decided which questions to answer from lists submitted separately by the Post and the Journal.

Hu made an official visit to the White House in 2006, but President George W. Bush denied him the privilege of a full state visit, offering only a lunch. He was in Washington in April for President Obama's nuclear security summit.

The Obama administration plans to use the summit to refocus attention on China's record on human rights and political freedoms, after spending much of the past two years seeking to engage the Chinese leadership on a broad array of global issues including climate change, helping stabilize the global economy, and dealing with the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

The human rights issue - which many administration critics believe was underplayed over the past two years - gained a new spotlight in October, when the Nobel Committee in Oslo awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to a jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo. Also last fall, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao linked political reform to continued economic progress in a speech in Shenzhen, at the United Nations in September and later in an interview with Time magazine and CNN.

Hu, in his written answers Sunday, said China would continue to develop "socialist democracy." His comment on the topic seemed to suggest that China's leadership at once understands the growing demand for more pluralism from its increasingly affluent citizens, while at the same time signaling that any further opening will come only within the strict confines of the current, Communist-led system.

Political reform, Hu said, must "meet people's growing enthusiasm for participating in political affairs." But he added: "The political structuring we pursue in China is aimed at advancing the self-improvement and development of the socialist political system."

Hu pointed to China's economic success of the past three decades as a validation of its political model.

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