Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hu Yaobang, widely viewed as the likely successor to China's senior leader Deng Xiaoping, arrived here today for his first visit to a western industrialized nation.
While counting for little in practical terms, the visit means a great deal in terms of images and symbolism.
The five-day, good-will visit to Australia is viewed by the Chinese as an opportunity to learn and strengthen ties with a western nation. Diplomats say, however, that Hu also is likely to have a "hidden agenda," which includes primarily projecting an image back home of an international statesman.
To many Chinese, Hu, 69, apparently has not established an image as a strong leader yet. He has not succeeded Deng, who is now 80, as chairman of the Communist Party's central military commission, which seems to indicate some opposition to him within the Army.
It is a safe trip, with little chance of anything going wrong for either side, because relations between China and Australia hardly could be better. Trade is growing, and no major issue clouds the relationship such as Taiwan does for China and the United States.
China has few disagreements with Australia, but there is one point where Hu's views might depart from those of his hosts. Chinese officials are wary of Australian susceptibility to Vietnam's position on the Vietnamese conflict with China. Both China and Australia agree, however, that one of the main aims of any negotiations with Vietnam should be to secure a withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia.
The two sides also might clash on the issue of port visits by nuclear-armed U.S. warships. China's press went a long way toward siding with New Zealand a few months ago in its opposition to such visits to New Zealand by U.S. Navy vessels. But U.S. and Australian diplomats apparently prevailed on the Chinese not to take an official position in favor of New Zealand.
Hu reopened the issue a few days ago, however, when he declared in an interview in Peking that the United States had agreed not to send nuclear-armed ships on a planned port call at Shanghai in several weeks. U.S. spokesmen denied giving any such assurance.
Hu is a largely self-educated man whose only direct experience with a western-oriented nation came in 1983, when he visited Japan. As far as is known, his only other trips outside China during the past four decades have all been to communist nations -- the Soviet Union, Romania, Yugoslavia, Cambodia and at least twice to North Korea.
Another possible "hidden agenda" item for Hu is to help train in the ways of the outside world the younger, up-and-coming leaders he has brought with him. Prominent among them is Hu Qili, a 55-year-old member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party Central Committee, and Ruan Chongwu, the even younger deputy mayor of Shanghai.
Hu has a reputation for being one of the least ideologically constrained of the Chinese leaders as well as one of the most tolerant of a diversity of views. But he is no democrat in the western sense and clearly believes that Communist Party rule in China must go unchallenged.
Parris Chang, an American scholar from Pennsylvania State University who met Hu in mid-1983, said the Chinese leader struck him as being a personable, energetic individual with an appealing directness and the same streak of earthiness that also characterized Deng and the late chairman Mao Tse-tung. But Chang also said that Hu's views seemed to be highly colored by an ideology that has distorted his views of the West, and of the United States in particular.
Hu was met at the airport in this western Australian city by Prime Minister Robert Hawke. Australian observers said they could not remember a previous occasion when a prime minister flew from Canberra all the way across this huge nation to welcome a foreign visitor.
It is difficult to imagine two nations more different than Australia and China or two cities more contrasting than Perth and Peking, the Chinese capital. Much of Peking is gray, crowded and polluted. Perth is neat, clean and green. The average home has two cars parked in front of it. Beaches of white sand stretch for miles to both the north and south, and golf courses dot the area.
Hawke and Hu drove into Perth in a black 1958 Rolls Royce through a low-profile part of the city consisting of small houses and neatly cropped lawns and shrubs before entering the high-rise section of the city set on the cobalt blue Swan River.