Hu Jintao comes to White House with simple message: Respect us

Jon Ward Contributor
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An observer seeking signs that the U.S. and China have had difficulty playing nicely with one another would only have to listen to the words used by President Obama and President Hu Jintao at the official start of the Chinese premier’s state visit to Washington Wednesday morning.

Obama, welcoming Hu to the White House in an elaborate arrival ceremony reserved for the most significant occasions, used the word cooperation or cooperative five times in a brief speech of 395 words.

Hu more than doubled that, using the same word 12 times in a slightly longer speech of 580 words.

Beyond the standard fare of expressing friendship and pledging cooperation, the two leaders sent clear messages in their speeches, which will draw attention around the world.

Obama reminded the Chinese — who arrived in Washington “flexing [their] muscles,” as one commentator put it — that their economic fate is closely linked to America’s. It was a recognition that much of China’s wealth is tied up in U.S. assets and that the dollar remains the world’s reserve currency.

“This visit is also a chance to demonstrate a simple truth. We have an enormous stake in each other’s success,” Obama said. “In an interconnected world, in a global economy, nations, including our own, will be more prosperous and more secure when we work together.”

Obama also raised the issue of human rights — a sticking point for China — arguing that “societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being.”

Hu’s message appeared to be at its essence a request, perhaps a demand, that the U.S. work with China on matters of common interest, and leave them alone on matters of disagreement, such as the exchange rate of China’s currency, its choices in foreign policy and foreign development and on how it handles internal dissent.

“Our cooperation as partners should be based on mutual respect. We live in an increasingly diverse and colorful world. China and the United States should respect each other’s choice of development path and each other’s core interest,” Hu said.

Hu also implied that the U.S. has not worked hard enough to see things from China’s point of view, stressing the need to “seek to learn from each other” and to “deepen mutual understanding.”

The two leaders are scheduled to face reporters for a four-question press conference in the afternoon.

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