WASHINGTON, April 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush greeted his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, to the White House on April 20 for a meeting that -- outwardly, at least -- stressed form over substance.
Bush took advantage of a balmy spring day to put on a formal welcoming ceremony that included a review of American troops, some dressed in 18th-century uniforms. The U.S. leader then played host to Hu at a formal luncheon. However, the meeting produced little of substance, with Hu and Bush speaking only in the most general terms on issues ranging from Iran's nuclear program to bilateral trade concerns.
Bush spoke optimistically about the level of cooperation between the two countries.
"Prosperity depends on security," Bush said. "So, the United States and China share a strategic interest in enhancing security for both our peoples. We intend to 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."
The U.S. president did not ignore the many differences between the two countries -- including the United States's $202 billion trade deficit with China, China's undervalued currency, and its human rights record.
"As the relationship between our two nations grows and matures, we can be candid about our disagreements," Bush declared, before suggesting that political freedom would benefit the Chinese, as economic freedom has.
"China has become successful because the Chinese people are experiencing the freedom to buy and to sell and to produce, and China can grow even more successful by allowing the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to speak freely, and to worship," Bush said.
The Iran Question
One point of agreement is Iran's nuclear ambitions. Both Bush and Hu said they agree Tehran should not be permitted to have nuclear weapons. However, they disagree on whether the UN Security Council should impose sanctions if Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment.
Three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, France, and the United States -- would prefer sanctions as a means of persuading Iran to halt its nuclear program. The other two -- China and Russia -- say they fear sanctions might have the opposite effect, provoking Iran to take an even harder line.
At the United Nations on April 19, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said all five governments are finally in agreement that some action must be taken against Iran.
While there is still no consensus on sanctions, Bush said on April 20 that the United States's relationship with China is cordial enough that the two countries can discuss any differences in what he called "friendship and cooperation."
"We are ready to continue to work with the U.S. side and other parties concerned to peacefully resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic negotiation to uphold the international nonproliferation regime and to safeguard global peace and stability," he said.
The North Korea Question
As Hu indicated, North Korea's nuclear program remains an issue. China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States have been negotiating with Pyongyang on ways for it to abandon its effort to build an nuclear arsenal. The six parties have met occasionally in Beijing for the past two years.
Progress in the talks has been slow, a point made clear by Hu after he and Bush held their private White House meeting.
"The six-party talks have run into some difficulties at the moment," he said, expressing the hope that the parties to the disscussions would "display flexibility, work together, and create the necessary conditions for the early resumption of talks."
Hu did not specify whether he was referring to a new hurdle in the talks, or the general difficulty that has characterized the negotiations.
The Multibillion Yuan Question
China and the United States also differ over economic issues. Washington wants Beijing to increase the value of its currency, the yuan. U.S. critics say an undervalued yuan makes Chinese goods unfairly competitive with American goods. Bush noted that the yuan's value has recently increased, and expressed hopes for a further increase.
Bush mentioned China's human rights record only in passing, though he vowed "I'll continue to discuss with President Hu the importance of respecting human rights and freedoms of the Chinese people."
A more vigorous statement was made by a woman at the welcoming ceremony, who interrupted Hu's remarks with shouts of support for Falun Gong. The Chinese government has arrested many of its adherents, arguing that the spiritual movement is an evil cult.
The protester was forcibly removed from the White House grounds.
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