Bush and Hu vow new cooperation

Posted in China , United States | 21-Apr-06 | Author: Joseph Kahn| Source: International Herald Tribune

President Bush and President Hu Jintao of China made progress Thursday on their nations' economic differences but disagreed on other matters.
WASHINGTON President George W. Bush of the United States Bush and China's president, Hu Jintao, pledged to cooperate more closely on fighting nuclear proliferation and reducing trade imbalances on Thursday, but broke no new ground on the most delicate issues that divide the two nations.

The meeting, the first at the White House between the men since Hu became China's top leader in 2002, was plagued by gaffes that upended months of painstaking diplomacy over protocol and staging.

Though administration officials said significant progress was made, especially on the economic front, the session also underscored the intractable nature of a long list of grievances between the world's richest country and its fastest rising rival.

No new agreements were announced after Oval Office negotiations and a working lunch.

The occasion was disrupted when a member of the Falun Gong spiritual sect, accredited as a reporter for a sect-run publication to cover the ceremony at the White House, interrupted Hu's address and upset the elaborate choreography the Chinese delegation had regarded as the most important trophy of Hu's visit. Screaming, "President Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong," the ethnic Chinese woman, Wenyi Wang, partly drowned out Hu. She continued shouting for more than a minute before security officers removed her.

Bush later apologized to Hu for the incident, White House officials said. But Chinese Foreign Ministry officials traveling with Hu canceled an afternoon briefing. One delegation member, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly, described his superiors as outraged by the breach.

Compounding the gaffe, a White House announcer introducing the national anthems at the same ceremony mistakenly referred to China as the Republic of China, which is the formal name of its archrival, Taiwan. Mainland China is the People's Republic of China. China treats American support for Taiwan, a separately governed island that China claims as its sovereign territory, as the biggest irritant in bilateral relations. Even minuscule changes in the wording of diplomatic statements on the subject are often viewed as transformative on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

While it is unclear whether the Chinese will interpret the two incidents as simple mistakes or as overt efforts to embarrass Mr. Hu, there was no indication that they derailed the private discussions between the presidents that followed.

The two men emerged from the Oval Office and agreed to accept several questions from the media, a rarity for Mr. Hu, an aloof leader who almost never interacts with the press.

Bush said the countries would "deepen our cooperation in addressing threats to global security, including the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, the violence unleashed by terrorists and extremists and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

He acknowledged that the two men "do not agree on everything" but said, "We're able to discuss our disagreements in a spirit of friendship and cooperation."

Hu also acknowledged that "different opinions or even frictions" had complicated the relationship. But he emphasized that China believed that the areas of agreement outweighed the differences.

"China and the United States share extensive common interests, and there is a broad prospect for the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries," he said.

Bush said he discussed with Hu the possibility of passing a United Nations Security Council motion against Iran that would permit imposing sanctions ranging from economic penalties to military strikes. China has repeatedly rejected the idea as an unnecessary escalation of the nuclear standoff.

Hu emphasized that China would only support steps that enhanced dialogue and did not suggest any inclination to embrace Bush's idea.

Hu said multinational talks to end North Korea's nuclear program had run into difficulties, but he did not outline new steps that China would take to bring North Korea back to the bargaining table. Bush urged him to do more to use China's "considerable influence" to get results after years of inconclusive diplomacy.

Bush administration officials were more upbeat about the discussion on economic issues, including China's incipient steps to allow its currency, the yuan, to appreciate and efforts by Hu to reduce China's reliance on exports and stimulate domestic demand as a source of growth.

As it has many times before, China has promised to buy more American goods and to crack down on industrial-scale piracy of American copyrights and trademarks. But after announcing a broad commitment to those goals earlier this month, China presented no new measures.

Hu did emphasize China's intention to undertake a structural shift in its economy, which has tended to favor investment- and export-driven growth during its heady rise over the past quarter century.

Citing steps China has taken as part of its five-year economic plan, Hu said Beijing would seek to stimulate more consumer-led growth, in part by improving the social safety net so that consumers felt comfortable spending money rather than saving it at record high levels for health, education and retirement.

"China is pursuing a policy of boosting domestic demand, which means that we'll mainly rely on domestic demand to further promote economic growth," Hu said.

On human rights, Hu refused to make concessions on any cases on a list that Bush presented to him last September, when they met during a session at the United Nations. Dennis Wilder, the acting senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council, said Bush presented the same list to Hu again this time.

Hu did get a big part of what Chinese analysts said he came for: images of him with the American president on the White House lawn, as Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, his predecessors, had posed for.

The pomp included an elaborate honor guard, a military band, a fife and drum corps and the full 21-gun salute given visiting heads of state.

But the protocol for the meeting was already a sore point for the Chinese, who argued for months that Mr. Hu's first trip here as president must be a full state visit. The White House declined to offer him a state dinner, however, and has called the session a "working visit."

The heckling by the protester is likely to exacerbate the spat over protocol. Chinese television viewers will now almost certainly get a censored view of the event. Wilder said he did not expect the incident to have significant repercussions. But, he said, "I'm not going to stand here and say they are not upset."