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Summit yields gains for both China and U.S.
For Hu, the state visit, coming late in his second term as China's top Communist Party official, was critical to his legacy and whatever ambitions he might have to continue to influence the course of Chinese politics.
The last time Hu visited the White House, he was accused of torture by a follower of China's banned Falun Gong religious sect. The White House announcer then told the audience that they were about to hear the national anthem of "the Republic of China" - the name for China's nemesis, Taiwan. And President George W. Bush didn't offer him a state dinner, just a lunch. While the Chinese side insisted on calling the meeting a "state visit," the Bush administration demurred, referring to it as a less important, "official" one.
Four years later, Hu finally obtained the treatment from the United States that he and his government have been seeking - a full-fledged state visit, complete with 21-gun salute and a banquet at the White House, although Hu did not conform to Western tradition by wearing a tuxedo. And this time there were no significant gaffes.
Since 2001, Hu has served as Chinese president and chairman of the Communist Party often in the shadow of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who 13 years ago was the last Chinese president to wrangle a state visit out of the United States. Now as Hu looks to leave the presidency in 2012, he can return to China having matched Jiang's feat. And for China, the visit - and the praise heaped on it by Obama - was an affirmation of its arrival as a power on the world stage.
"The United States recognized that China is a great power," Kliman said. "Hu could take that home as his legacy."
Hu's meetings on Capitol Hill on Thursday did not go as swimmingly as his engagement with Obama. Some lawmakers were looking for immediate results from China, while others took the long view.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized the positive after his Hu huddle, suggesting that a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu's recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was achieved 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 is a different posture than the traditional Chinese view that outside nations should not meddle in China's internal affairs, nor would it meddle in others'.
"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."
On the House side, however, Democrats and Republicans both felt that not much progress had been made, noting that Hu engaged in a Senate-style filibuster, speaking for 20 minutes in response to a question from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) about trade and intellectual property.
Kerry summed up the feelings of many, though, saying that despite his optimism: "Words as we all know don't define a policy. It's going to have to be translated" into action.
Staff writers Scott Wilson and Paul Kane in Washington contributed to this report.