BEIJING – On a whirlwind trip to the U.S. next week, the normally reserved president of China will look positively chatty, giving three speeches in four days.
For a leader who rarely speaks in public and whose most important speech of the year is usually given in secret, President Hu Jintao's turn in the international spotlight carries a bold purpose: charming an America wary about China's growing economic and diplomatic clout.
He'll talk trade matters to a business crowd at an aviation museum outside Seattle, discuss international issues with the policy elite in Washington and address historical trends at Yale University.
"These speeches are an appeal to the American public," said Jin Canrong, an international affairs specialist at Beijing's Renmin University. "He wants to show that China's development is peaceful, that China is a responsible stake-holder."
It's a tall order. On his trip, which begins Tuesday and is his first to Washington since becoming China's No. 1 leader in 2002, Hu faces a bumpy period in U.S.-China relations. From issues like trade, once the bulwark of relations, to new security worries like energy and Iran, China's conduct is provoking unease in a Washington preoccupied with troubles in the Middle East.
"There's a pressing sense in some circles that China is taking advantage of international conditions," said Jonathan Pollack of the U.S. Naval War College.
China has sought to brighten the atmosphere for Hu. Beijing dispatched a vice premier and 200 business executives to the U.S. to sign $16.2 billion in deals, among them an order for 80 mid-size Boeing 737s. China also agreed to stepped-up protections against product piracy.
The U.S. is reciprocating, with President Bush, who dislikes ceremony, giving Hu some of the pomp Chinese officials say plays well on domestic TV. He'll be received on the White House's South Lawn on Thursday and treated to a formal lunch.
But both sides also are talking tough. Hu will raise the perennial sore spot of Taiwan, the democratic island China claims but whose defense the U.S. is legally bound to assist.
Twice in recent days, Bush has vowed to hold Hu accountable to fair trade practices, singling out the Chinese currency, which the U.S. says is undervalued, makes Chinese exports cheap and has contributed to a ballooning $200 billion trade deficit with China.
Beyond trade, Hu's government has clamped down on civil liberties and religious activists at home, drawing condemnation from the State Department that the human rights situation was deteriorating. Recent U.S. national security and defense policy documents call China, with its rapidly improving military capabilities, a source of concern.
In its quest for resources to feed the juggernaut economy, China has cozied up to Iran and Venezuela, regimes the Bush administration is at odds with, and made inroads with governments Washington has long courted. Immediately following his U.S. stay, Hu travels to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.
At discussions in Beijing this past week, Chinese officials drew a red line over energy, telling the U.S. that China "will look for oil where they can find it," a senior U.S. official said.
Both sides realize that these issues, no matter how heated, are long-term ones that won't be resolved at any summit. Bush and Hu have managed to build a working relationship if not a warm one, meeting at least four times last year, administration officials have said.
"Each side is making continuous efforts to adjust to the other's legitimate interests," said Shen Dingli, an America watcher at Shanghai's Fudan University.
That workmanlike approach, however, is often lost on the American public and makes the public diplomacy of Hu's trip all the more important, according to international affairs experts.
"He has got to put, in as benign terms as he can, China's long-term transition," said Pollack of the Naval War College.
Each of Hu's speeches and stops are being designed to reach a different but crucial American constituency, an occasional policy adviser to Hu said, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not damage his ties to the leadership.
In Seattle, it's business, dining at Bill Gates' home and touring Boeing Co. before making the economic-oriented speech. In Washington, it's the policy-making apparatus, and at Yale, it's the cultural elite.
One argument he is expected to make, according to the policy adviser, is that China is too consumed with domestic problems, from persisting poverty in the countryside to environmental degradation, to engage in military adventures abroad.
In courting the U.S., Hu is sticking to one old habit. He isn't expected to hold a news conference with Bush, as is usual for visiting dignitaries, or take questions from the media.
"That's a missed opportunity," Shen said.