Published April 21, 2006
WASHINGTON – Despite tough calls Thursday from President Bush for Chinese President Hu Jintao and his country's administration to work with the United States on trade, human rights and other issues, Hu gave no concrete assurances.
Hu's visit began with an official welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn, and after a private meeting between the two top leaders in the Oval Office, the leaders answered reporters' questions. The public agenda began to wind down after a luncheon featuring Cabinet members, government officials, dignitaries, a Nashville bluegrass band and toasts by Bush and Hu.
After meeting with other U.S. officials, Hu was scheduled to deliver remarks to pro-business groups Thursday evening.
At the welcoming ceremony, Bush lept directly into outlining official business that was on the table between the two men. Just a few hours later during the picture-taking session in the Oval Office, Bush and Hu pledged cooperation toward their common goals but acknowledged that much work remained to be done.
"We would hope there would be more appreciation" of the yuan, Bush said of his concerns over the Chinese currency. The United States views the Chinese yuan as undervalued; officials say a more powerful yuan would encourage more spending on American goods.
Hu made some general promises about taking steps to further open the country to American products in an effort to stave off the widening trade gap.
"We have taken measures and will continue to take steps to resolve the issue," he said.
But those comments were likely to do little to cool calls in Congress for punitive tariffs on Chinese products.
Hu is aware of the growing U.S. impatience with America's record $202 billion trade deficit with China and critics' arguments that the unfair imbalance has contributed to the loss of nearly 3 million U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2001.
"I appreciate his statement very much, because all American people want is to be treated fairly in the international marketplace," Bush told reporters. "He [Hu] recognizes that a trade deficit with the United States is substantial and it is unsustainable ... Obviously the Chinese government takes the currency issue seriously, and so do I."
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, and there appeared to be no movement on that issue.
Bush said the two sides agree on the goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons or the having the capability to produce them and are in a position to "work on tactics" to achieve it.
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 programs. Asked what more his country could do to resolve that dispute, Hu asserted that China "has always been making constructive efforts to de-nuclearize the Korean peninsula."
But the American president put a good face on the meeting.
"We don't agree on everything but we are able to discuss our disagreements in friendship and cooperation," Bush said.
'Mr. Hu, Your Days Are Numbered'
During the welcoming ceremony Thursday morning marking the Chinese leader's first visit as president to the United States, Bush and the first lady greeted Hu and his wife, Liu Yongqing.
Hu then walked by visiting press corps and top officials from both countries, and he reviewed a group of military troops in dress uniform. Then he and Bush stood on a red platform adorned in bunting as military bands performed before they delivered their remarks.
Bush said it is imperative the two countries work on the U.S.-China trade gap, nuclear proliferation, the War on Terror, human rights and other issues of common interest.
"The United States and China are two nations divided by a vast ocean, yet connected through a global economy that has created opportunity for both our peoples. The United States welcomes the emergence of a China that is peaceful and prosperous, and supports international institutions," Bush said, adding that he wants to be "candid" about the two leaders' disagreements.
"Our two nations have many strategic interests," Bush continued.
Bush said he would continue to press for China to move "toward a flexible market exchange rate for its currency" and called for more cooperation on addressing the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.
When it was Hu's turn at the podium, the Chinese leader said: "I'm glad to visit the United States ... I have come to enhance dialogue ... and promote the overall growth of constructive and cooperative" relations between China and the United States.
The visit was not considered an official state visit by the Bush administration due to concerns over human rights abuses, an administration official told FOX News. Bush has hosted few full state visits.
During Hu's remarks, a protester began screaming and was led away by security. The woman was a credentialed member of the media and member of the Falun Gong. In Chinese, the woman said: "Bush, stop him from persecuting" Falun Gong and, "Mr. Hu, your days are numbered."
After a brief pause, and a whisper from Bush, Hu continued: "The Chinese people have always cherished goodwill toward the American people."
Bush later apologized to Hu for the incident during their meeting in the Oval Office, said said Dennis Wilder, acting senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff.
"He just said this was unfortunate and I'm sorry it happened," Wilder said.
A group of religious and human rights protesters also gathered near the White House to bring to light criticism of China.
Hu pledged China's help in working diplomatically to ease nuclear tensions with both North Korea and Iran and vowed in general terms to work to promote human rights.
"We should respect each other as equals and promote closer exchanges and cooperation," Hu said, speaking through a translator, adding that closer U.S.-Chinese cooperation would "bring more benefits to our two people and to the people of the world."
Dems Black Bush Economic Policy
Democrats, meanwhile, took the opportunity to blast Bush for what they called a "failed economic policy."
"Let's hope that President Bush and Republicans in Congress stand up for American jobs, American workers and the American economy. It's time to put the needs of hard working Americans ahead of politics," Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney said in a statement Thursday.
"Having stood idly by as our trade deficit with China has hit record levels, as fair trading rules that would ensure American workers can compete on a level playing field have been abused, and as our debt to China has increased, President Bush and his administration have undermined the economic security of our Nation and our working families," Finney continued.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley said he welcomed Hu's recognition that steps are needed toward better trade relations.
"Now we'll see what comes of those remarks. Good words need to be followed by concrete action," said Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, in a prepared statement.
Hu's 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.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.