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[The Wall Street Journal] China’s Xi Starts His Wooing of U.S.

Obama, Biden Press Beijing’s Next Leader on Divisive Issues; Trip Aims to Define Ties for Next Decade

WASHINGTON—Xi Jinping, China’s expected next leader, began a week of wooing America Tuesday as he met with President Barack Obama for the first time, kicking off a visit that could shape the bilateral relationship for a decade to come.

President Obama and Xi Jinping got a first chance to size each other up at the White House on Tuesday.

But even as Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden sought to strike a rapport with China’s heir apparent, they pressed him publicly and, aides said, privately on many of the issues bedeviling relations between the world’s two largest economies, including trade and human rights.

Vice President Xi’s delegation of about 200 people was also greeted by hundreds of protesters, including Tibetan and ethnic Uighur activists, Chinese democracy campaigners, and members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China.

U.S. officials see Mr. Xi’s trip as a rare opportunity for officials, lawmakers and business leaders to get to know the man who is expected to be promoted to Communist Party chief—the nation’s top job—in a once-a-decade leadership change in October or November.

For China, the priority is to establish Mr. Xi’s image at home and overseas as a future world leader capable of handling relations with the U.S. Neither side, however, is willing to be seen giving ground on the major disputes between them in a year of political transition.

Nonetheless, they did announce several agreements including a commitment from China to open its auto insurance market to foreign investors — a significant step towards meeting U.S. demands for greater access to the Chinese financial services market.

They also agreed to open talks on setting guidelines for export-credit financing, an area where Beijing’s aggressive practices have raised U.S. concerns, „with the goal of concluding an agreement by 2014.”

U.S. officials said they recognized that as the vice president Mr Xi could not make too many concessions for fear of upstaging the incumbent, or appearing weak. But the administration wanted to make sure that he will leave Washington with a strong appreciation for the American point of view.

At the start of his meeting with Mr. Xi, Mr. Obama repeated that the U.S. welcomes a rising China but said, „With expanding power and prosperity also comes increased responsibilities.” He said China must play by the „rules of the road” on economic matters and, on human rights, recognize „the aspirations and rights of all people.”

In remarks at a luncheon in Mr. Xi’s honor, Mr. Biden was more direct, speaking at length about U.S. concerns on issues including intellectual property rights, currency policy and forced technology transfers, as well as China’s veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the brutal Syria crackdown.

Later, the White House said that Mr. Obama’s session with Mr. Xi has been cordial and businesslike. An administration official said Mr. Obama told Mr. Xi that the yuan was undervalued and pressed him for more progress in rebalancing China’s economy to stimulate demand for imports, not just exports. The pair also discussed North Korea, and Mr. Obama expressed appreciation for China’s role in enforcing sanctions against Iran. Mr. Obama expressed U.S. disappointment with China’s veto of the Syrian resolution, as well as the importance of human rights, the official said.

Still, both sides went out of their way to emphasize the value they place in the relationship.

„While the United States and China … will not always see eye to eye… it is a sign of the strength and maturity of our relationship that we can be candid about our differences as we have been,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Xi said he hoped the day of meetings would „strengthen consensus” between the two countries and „deepen our friendship.”

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, right, and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping shook hands before a meeting at the White House in Washington Tuesday.

In Beijing, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao defended Beijing’s handling of the crisis in Syria, saying China was working to prevent the spread of violence in Syria.

„China does not seek to protect any party, including the Syrian government,” he added.

In Washington, U.S. officials extended a series of diplomatic honors to Mr. Xi designed to convey American respect for his position and good visuals for his domestic audience. The luncheon featured a bevy of well-known American politicians, media personalities, academics and business leaders. He was greeted at the Pentagon with a 19-gun salute, the first time this and other honors have been extended to a visiting vice president.

And Mr. Biden hosted a dinner Monday evening at his official residence for senior U.S. and Chinese officials, where Mr. Xi’s motorcade was greeted by a flag-lined military honor cordon, and Mr. Xi walked into the house along a red carpet. Violinist Joshua Bell performed.

Outside the White House, Tibetan activists for a second day protested Chinese policies in Tibet, which they blame for a series of self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans over the last year. The latest case occurred on Monday, when a monk set himself ablaze in western China.

The Tibetan protesters outside the White House were joined by a few dozen supporters of the Democratic Party of China and the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China. There were also several hundred Chinese supporters of Mr. Xi, waving Chinese flags and shouting „Go China!”

Chinese Embassy officials were not available to comment about Mr Xi’s meetings, or the protests.

At the end of his nearly hour-and-a-half Oval Office session, Mr. Xi invited Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to visit China. The White House did not say whether the Obamas would go. A trip this year, in the midst of his re-election campaign, would be politically and logistically difficult, but it could happen if Mr. Obama won re-election.Mr. Xi also said he supported an exchange of visits by the two countries’ defense ministers during talks at the Pentagon where he was given a formal welcome with military honors—a first for a visiting vice president.On a day marked by choreographed speeches and meetings, Mr. Xi largely stuck to his script, defending China’s policies while declaring his interest in working closely with the U.S.

There were few candid moments, though observers said Mr. Xi appeared more confident and at ease than the man he is slated to succeed, Chinese President Hu Jintao.

He pledged, for example, to interact with a „broad cross section of American society”—a clear reference to his visit to Muscatine, Iowa, on Wednesday for a reunion with a family he stayed with there on a visit in 1985.

He quoted from a Chinese pop song at one point, and from Francis Bacon, the 16th-century British philosopher, and Edward Bellamy, the 19th-century American socialist author, later in the day at a meeting with Chinese and U.S. CEOs.

He also said he had sought the advice of former senior U.S. officials who had played key roles in building bilateral ties over the last four decades. They had given him „food for thought,” he said.

That was a reference to his meeting, soon after arrival Monday, with former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, former national-security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and Sandy Berger, and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Domestic politics were at work on both sides. Mr. Obama is already under attack from Republicans who say he has not done enough to address Beijing’s currency policy and the U.S. trade deficit with China. That might explain, at least in part, the repeated public assurances that Messrs. Obama and Biden had indeed pressed the point with Mr. Xi.

And Mr. Xi was careful to pay homage to Mr. Hu, who is still the president.

Bonnie S. Glaser, an expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs who attended Tuesday’s lunch, said she was struck by Mr. Biden’s comments. „I felt that he definitely highlighted the areas of disagreement,” she said.

But she said she was told by White House officials that the private meeting between Messrs. Biden and Xi was constructive, partly because they were already comfortable with one another, having spent some 10 hours together in China last August.

She added that while she has heard that Mr. Xi has a more relaxed style than Mr. Hu, she had trouble discerning it in his public appearances Tuesday. „Watching him in Iowa will give us a lot better sense to what he is as a person,” she said.

Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama made reference to Iowa’s significance in the U.S. political system, with Mr. Biden joking that were Mr. Xi to have arrived there a bit earlier, he might have contended for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. Obama also mentioned that Mr. Xi might watch an NBA game in Los Angeles on Friday—another potential first for a Chinese leader.

Domestic politics were at work on both sides. Mr. Obama is already under attack from Republicans who say he has not done enough to address Beijing’s currency policy and the U.S. trade deficit with China. That might explain, at least in part, the repeated public assurances that Messrs. Obama and Biden had indeed pressed the point with Mr. Xi.

And Mr. Xi was careful to pay homage to Mr. Hu, who is still the president.

Bonnie S. Glaser, an expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs who attended Tuesday’s lunch, said she was struck by Mr. Biden’s comments. „I felt that he definitely highlighted the areas of disagreement,” she said.

But she said she was told by White House officials that the private meeting between Messrs. Biden and Xi was constructive, partly because they were already comfortable with one another, having spent some 10 hours together in China last August.

She added that while she has heard that Mr. Xi has a more relaxed style than Mr. Hu, she had trouble discerning it in his public appearances Tuesday. „Watching him in Iowa will give us a lot better sense to what he is as a person,” she said.

Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama made reference to Iowa’s significance in the U.S. political system, with Mr. Biden joking that were Mr. Xi to have arrived there a bit earlier, he might have contended for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. Obama also mentioned that Mr. Xi might watch an NBA game in Los Angeles on Friday—another potential first for a Chinese leader.

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