Chinese President Hu Jintao calls for deeper engagement with U.S., assures business leaders

Chinese President Hu Jintao is making his first state visit to the United States.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 7:07 PM

Chinese President Hu Jintao called Thursday for deeper engagement with the United States on a broad range of issues, warning that only by working together in some areas and respecting national differences in others will the two nations avoid friction in the years ahead.

Speaking to hundreds of industry leaders, lobbyists, and diplomats at a lunch hosted by the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on United States-China Relations, Hu said, "It is fair to say our two countries have never enjoyed such broad common interests and shouldered such important common responsibilities as we do today," particularly in the economically vital Asia-Pacific region.

Despite a difficult year in U.S.-China relations, Hu listed his work with Obama on the global economic crisis, Iran, North Korea and climate change as evidence that the two countries have more binding them together than dividing them.

But he also said that issues of essential national interest - he named China's claim to Tibet and Taiwan - should be managed with care. "Otherwise," Hu said, "our relations will suffer constant trouble or even tension."

"It is only normal that we have some disagreements and frictions," Hu said. But the two sides should manage them "with a sense of responsibility to history and to the future," he said.

Hu's 22-minute speech spanned the security, economic and social issues that define the relationship between what the Chinese leader described as the world's largest developed and developing countries. His optimistic assessment concluded his visit to Washington, which included meetings at the White House, a festive state dinner and a visit to Capitol Hill.

As he prepares to leave office next year, Hu had hoped for a visit free of the protest and diplomatic gaffes that marred his last trip here in 2006.

And although demonstrators calling for a free Tibet traced his itinerary during his time in Washington, he largely got what he had hoped for, even as Obama made clear that China's human rights record would remain a source of tension between the countries until it improves. Liu Xiaobo, a writer and democracy advocate who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, is currently in prison, along with many other political dissidents.

In his luncheon speech, Hu echoed his admission, made at a White House news conference the previous day, that China has work to do in making room for greater civil liberties in its development model, which administration officials have praised for lifting hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty over the past decade.

"Despite the remarkable achievements in China's development, we are keenly aware that China is still the largest developing country in the world," Hu said. "We still have a long way to go before we achieve our national development goals."

He said China's policies would bring more focus to promoting "social equity and justice," and he said his country would remain committed to upholding a policy of reform and "opening up," including an economy that Obama hopes will buy more U.S. exports in the coming years. Hu said economic growth remains the key to his goal of creating a "modern socialist country."

Hu listed several proposals for broadening U.S.-China relations, including the exchanges of students, scientists and cultural leaders that Obama has also sought to expand. He said the exchanges were particularly important to promote better understanding among young Americans and Chinese, some of whom have adopted a fierce nationalism that has alarmed U.S. officials.

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