Saturday 24 March 2018

Barack Obama to grant Hu Jintao the state dinner denied by George W Bush

Alex Spillius

Barack Obama will on Wednesday grant Hu Jintao, the president of China, the honour of a White House state dinner, in marked contrast to his previous visit to the US when George W Bush offered him only lunch.

Mr Obama will be hoping for an evening free of controversy as he returns the hospitality he was shown at a state dinner in Beijing on a visit in November 2009.

That trip proved awkward however, with Beijing making it clear it was either unwilling or unable to play the role of the co-operative superpower that Washington sought. Mr Obama faced criticism back home for "kowtowing" to the Chinese.

The Obama administration has since toughened its tone, complaining that the exchange rate of China's yuan is hindering the US economic recovery and criticising Beijing's human rights record.

China has meanwhile bristled at a visit by the Dalai Lama, the Tibet spiritual leader, to Washington, and US arms sales to Taiwan while North Korea has also exposed diplomatic fault lines.

"America and China have arrived at a critical juncture, a time when the choices we make, big and small, will shape the trajectory of this relationship," said Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, ahead of the visit.

Mr Hu said both sides needed to find "common ground" but respect each other's differences. With China holding most American sovereign debt, he knows that Washington's scope for criticism is limited.

With US unemployment near 10pc, Obama officials have said that a stable relationship with China is indispensable.

It will be the first state dinner for a Chinese leader for 13 years, and will serve as the highlight of a four-day visit that began on Tuesday night with a working dinner at the White House and will include a visit to Chicago, America’s mercantile centre.

"This is a relationship that has huge economic benefits for Americans," said Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary.

"Last year, our exports to China passed the $100bn mark ... China is likely to become our biggest trading partner sometime roughly ten years from today," he added.

Mr Obama's predecessor Mr Bush, mindful of anti-Chinse protests and his own friendship with the Dalai Lama, disappointed his visitor in 2006.

Mr Hu was then welcomed with a pomp-filled arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, including a 21-gun salute. But the ceremonies were spoiled by a woman protesting against China's treatment of the banned Falun Gong religious movement and a White House announcer who fluffed China's formal name by calling it the "Republic of China" – the name for Taiwan – instead of the "People's Republic of China."

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