WASHINGTON — President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to cooperate more closely on trade and nuclear tensions over Iran and North Korea but failed to break new ground Thursday toward resolving a host of differences. Their meeting was marred by a protest, which Bush later expressed regret to Hu for.
No breakthroughs had been expected during Hu’s first visit to the White House as the president of China. And both he and Bush acknowledged at a picture-taking session that much work remained to be done and that the two sides would strive for progress in these areas.
A welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn for Hu’s first visit as Chinese leader was briefly marred by the screams of a woman critical of the Chinese president. And hundreds of demonstrators massed outside to protest Beijing’s human-rights policies.
Bush, sitting in the Oval Office with Hu before a formal luncheon, praised China for previous progress in what is perhaps the major irritant in the relationship — Beijing’s tightly controlled currency.
The United States views the Chinese yuan as undervalued, and Bush said, “We would hope there would be more appreciation” in allowing the currency to rise with market forces.
On Iran, China has resisted the approach favored by the United States and Europe — pursuing sanctions if Tehran does not comply with demands that it halt uranium enrichment. There appeared to be no movement on that issue.
Basic agreement on Iran
Bush said only that the two sides agreed on the goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons or having the capability to produce them. The United States and China are in a position to “work on tactics” to achieve that goal, Bush said.
“We don’t agree on everything but we are able to discuss our disagreements in friendship and cooperation,” Bush told reporters.
Hu, aware of the growing U.S. impatience with America’s record $202 billion trade deficit with China, offered general promises to address the yawning gap. But his comments were likely to do little to cool calls in Congress for punitive tariffs on Chinese products.
“We have taken measures and will continue to take steps to resolve the issue,” he said.
Bush put a good face on the meeting.
“He recognizes that a trade deficit with the United States is substantial and it is unsustainable,” the president said of Hu. “Obviously the Chinese government takes the currency issue seriously, and so do I.”
Bush also had been hoping to get Beijing to take on more than a mediator’s role in efforts to bring North Korea back to six-nation talks aimed at halting its nuclear weapons program. Asked what more his country could do to resolve the dispute, Hu said that China “has always been making constructive efforts to de-nuclearize the Korean peninsula.”
The two presidents had not been expected to take questions. But an agreement to take questions from two reporters from each country came at the last minute and produced more than a half-hour of back-and-forth as the leaders sat in front of a fireplace.
Afterward, the leaders went into meetings with a larger group of aides and officials.
Bush was host at a formal lunch for China’s first family, with music supplied by a Nashville bluegrass band.
A toast to Hu
In a toast to the Chinese leader, Bush saluted China as an ancient civilization which had moved in a generation from isolationism to “engagement and expansion” with the world.
In his reply, Hu said that China “will keep firmly to the path of peaceful development” and would always “live in peace with other countries.”
As the two men spoke in the East Room of the White House, the sounds of protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue could be faintly heard and the luncheon guests could see the demonstrators through the open curtains.
The half-day summit got under way with pomp and pageantry on the South Lawn as demonstrators massed outside to protest Beijing’s human-rights policies.
The two leaders stood side by side under bright sunshine on the South Lawn of the White House as the national anthems of both countries were played by a military band.
Bush and Hu then engaged in a ceremonial review of U.S. troops, some dressed in Continental Army uniforms.
A woman on the camera stand interrupted the welcoming ceremony, shouting in heavily accented English and Chinese, “President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong!” and “President Bush: Stop him from killing.” She was forcibly removed from the South Lawn by uniformed Secret Service personnel.
Protester's newspaper surprised
Stephen Gregory, a spokesman for the Falun Gong-affiliated newspaper The Epoch Times, later identified the protester as Dr. Wang Wenyi, a pathologist and Falun Gong practitioner based in New York. She had received a press credential through the newspaper, Gregory said.
“We expected her to act as a reporter; we didn’t expect her to protest. None of us had any idea that Dr. Wang was planning this,” he said.
Hu arrived in Washington Wednesday night for the first time as China’s leader, after two days spent wooing American business leaders in Washington state.
In formal remarks on the South Lawn, Bush spoke more forcefully on the currency issue, saying he would continue to press for China to move “toward a flexible market exchange.”
Bush raised other issues with Hu, including complaints about China’s human rights record and questions over China’s growing military strength and whether it poses a threat to Taiwan.
During his address, Hu pledged China’s help in working diplomatically to ease the nuclear tensions with North Korea and Iran. And he vowed in general terms to work to promote human rights. “We should respect each other as equals and promote closer exchanges and cooperation,” he said, speaking through a translator.
Hu said that closer U.S.-Chinese cooperation would “bring more benefits to our two people and to the people of the world.”
Hu denounced as a 'Chinese dictator'
The visit attracted high-profile attention both inside and outside the White House gates. The spiritual movement Falun Gong, condemned by the Chinese government as an evil cult, gathered hundreds of demonstrators on street corners near the White House in the early morning. Marchers banged gongs, chanted and waved American and Chinese flags. Banners denounced Hu as a “Chinese dictator” responsible for genocide and other “crimes in Chinese labor camps and prisons.”
The Chinese government had its say as well. In a median in front of the Chinese embassy, the Falun Gong protesters that are nearly always there had been replaced by Chinese supporters holding huge red-and-yellow banners offering to “warmly welcome” Hu on his American visit.
The two sides disputed what to call the visit, with the Chinese insisting that it is a “state visit,” which was the designation former President Jiang Zemin received in 1997, or an “official visit,” the designation the Bush administration is using for Hu’s trip.
Hu has carried on a tradition started by Deng Xiaoping on his first visit to the United States in 1979 — courting American business executives in recognition of the fact that the United States is China’s biggest overseas market.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.