Hu Jintao meets with lawmakers, hears concerns on human rights

Chinese President Hu Jintao is making his first state visit to the United States.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 9:37 PM

Chinese President Hu Jintao held closed-door meetings Thursday morning with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, who raised concerns about business and human rights matters a day after Hu was feted at the White House but also pressed on those issues by President Obama.

In an hour-long meeting between Hu and House leaders, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) emphasized intellectual property protections and security on the Korean Peninsula, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressed human rights matters. After walking across the Capitol for a similar meeting with Senate leaders, Hu later delivered a speech to U.S. business leaders, assuring them that China will stick to its policy of opening up to the world and denying that his country has expansionist intentions. But he said the ruling Chinese Communist Party remains committed to building "a modern socialist country," and he rejected interference regarding Taiwan and Tibet, which China regards as internal matters.

The meetings on Capitol Hill displayed the trouble for lawmakers of reading between the lines of Hu's statements. Many members of Congress are looking for immediate results from China, while others view this week's talks as a subtle but key shift in China's approach to what its calls the "outside world."

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu's recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.

Kerry singled out Hu's assurances that China wants to defuse the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, as well as other "conflict areas." This was a different posture than the centuries-old view that outside nations should not meddle in China's internal affairs, nor would China meddle in other countries' domestic matters.

"I think there's a change and a shift in their recognition of the role they need to play," Kerry told reporters. "The role of major power is not something they've been accustomed to playing. They've been mostly focused on their internal issues. . . . "The idea of projecting outwards is new, and I think they recognize now they are more engaged with many, many countries, that this is part of the deal."

On the House side, however, both Democrats and Republicans felt that not much progress had been made. They suggested that Hu had engaged in a Senate-style filibuster, speaking for 20 minutes in response to Boehner's questions related to trade and intellectual property. About 10 members of House leadership attended the meeting, with Boehner and Pelosi the only lawmakers asking questions.

Pelosi declined to comment to reporters after the meeting, and in a lengthy statement released almost three hours later, she noted that she "had the opportunity to relay the concerns" about Hu's refusal to allow Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo to travel to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in December.

Republicans felt Hu dodged her question. "It was a somewhat evasive answer," Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr. (R-La.) said.

Boehner gave a neutral assessment of the meeting, saying, "I expressed my concerns about intellectual property and the issue of North Korea. The president responded, and I would hope that the dialogue on all of these subjects will continue."

Just before they ducked into the Lyndon B. Johnson Room for Thursday morning's meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) pulled Hu aside for a few minutes. The brief exchange was out of earshot of reporters, but the two could be seen smiling as two interpreters relayed their remarks to each other.

Then Reid and Hu shook hands and smiled for the cameras. Kerry, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) also shook hands with Hu outside the meeting.

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