Published April 21, 2006
WASHINGTON – Chinese President Hu Jintao's tightly scripted visit to the United States ended Friday with a speech at Yale University, where he said his country's booming economy poses no threat to the international community or the United States.
"The Chinese admire the pioneering and enterprising spirit of the Americans and to their proud achievements in national developments," Hu told the audience through a translator. "As China develops rapidly, and steady headway is made in China- U.S. cooperation, more and more Americans are following with great interest China's progress ... and development. Understanding leads to trust."
Hu met Thursday with President Bush, where the two pledged cooperation on such heated issues like international trade, nuclear nonproliferation and human rights. But the Chinese leader offered no firm promises sought by critics in the United States.
The speech Friday at the New Haven, Conn., school marked the end of the four-day trip that began with two days of meetings and events with business leaders in the Pacific Northwest, including a high-power dinner at Microsoft founder Bill Gates' home.
Hu opened his speech by quipping, "if time could go back several decades, I would really like to be a student of Yale, just like you."
Hu also answered two questions from the crowd during his speech, both of which had been submitted in advance. He was asked whether China was concerned that limiting political freedom would cause social unrest that could undermine the economic growth.
He said China is committed to democracy.
"China's political system suits its economic development," Hu said.
Chinese authorities this week named Yale the first overseas university allowed to trade on its stock market, which is off-limits to most foreigners. Yale has historic ties to the country, too. It lays claim to being the first U.S. university to graduate a Chinese student.
A CNN reporter was thrown out the welcoming ceremony after he shouted a question about whether Hu had seen the protesters gathered on the city green, school officials said. Yale spokeswoman Helene Kalsky said the reporter was thrown out because he was invited "to cover an event, not to hold a press conference."
Protesters and supporters began gathering after 8 a.m. EDT Friday outside the entrance to campus as police shut down streets and restricted parking downtown. Students had been assigned different classrooms due to the visit.
Dozens of police officers, some carrying riot gear, prepared for protests. Hundreds gathered on the city green, shouting anti-communist and anti-government slogans in Chinese. They denounced, by name, members of China's Politburo Standing Committee, the country's inner circle of power.
"Falun Dafa is good!" they shouted, using another name for Falun Gong, a religious group banned in China. "Down with Jiang Zemin! Down with Hu Jintao! Resolutely oppose the Communist Party!"
Pro-government demonstrators held scarlet signs in Chinese that said, "Warmly Welcome Chairman Hu Jintao to the United States" and "Bring China-U.S. relations closer." Hu is chairman and general secretary of the Communist Party.
"We are here to show our love to our country and show our enthusiasm to our president's visit to Yale university," said Zhou Jun, a Yale graduate student and Chinese citizen.
Security plans had called for protesters to gather on the city green, farther away from the speech and off Yale grounds, but university officials made a rare exception and allowed protests on the historic Old Campus, a block or two from the speech.
At 9:30 a.m. the lone protester on Old Campus was Yale freshman Edwin Everhart, 19, of Chapel Hill, N.C. Other student groups planned a march through campus later.
"When you get within 5,000 yards of one of these bigwigs, I think it's your responsibility as a human being to try and tell them something," said Everhart, coordinator of Amnesty International at Yale, who wore a "Free China" headband. "I'm here because I'm against the torture, the death penalty and nuclear weapons.
The Falun Gong made headlines Thursday when a woman identified by the Secret Service as Wenyi Wang was taken into custody. During the official reception ceremony for Hu, Wang, who had media credentials, yelled out asking for an end to prosecution of the Falun Gong, and said Hu's "days are numbered."
The woman was charged Friday with one count of knowingly and willfully intimidating, coercing, threatening, or harassing a foreign official in the performance of his duties — in this case, Hu. She already had been charged with disorderly conduct.
Dems, Trade Groups Not Satisfied With Hu Visit
In addition to the protester incident Thursday, another miscue might have caused some red faces when a White House announcer referred to China as the "Republic of China," the formal name of Taiwan.
Beijing claims sovereignty over the self-governing island, which split from the mainland when communists took over in 1949, and threatens to use force should Taiwan move toward formal independence. With the United States legally bound to defend Taiwan, but officially not in support of independence, Hu indicated that the issue was a major item of discussion for him with Bush.
During a dinner sponsored by U.S. business interests Thursday night, Hu said China would never allow forces to split Taiwan from China.
Addressing critics of China's human rights record, Hu told the crowd of Washington luminaries that "China takes human rights seriously."
The visit did little to please those who are critical of Washington's relation with Beijing.
"The president failed to make any significant progress in talks with his Chinese counterpart," complained Kevin Kearns, the president of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents around 1,500 small and medium-sized manufacturing companies.
Business, labor and industry observers say that the widening U.S.-China trade gap is a chief concern because it threatens American jobs and the economy as a whole, putting the United States in a position that it might not be able to pay its international debts in the future. The sale of U.S. goods and services to China outpaced purchases from that country by $202 billion in 2005.
Critics say that China is pursuing unfair trade policies that are giving Chinese exports unfair business advantages, including loan forgiveness, tax breaks and other subsidies that they do not give to foreign companies. The Chinese yuan is also a top priority, because many believe that China is artificially keeping the value of its currency low, making Chinese goods more preferable over American goods.
"This really sounds like a missed opportunity," said Frank Vargo, international vice president for the National Association of Manufacturers. "We were really hoping that significant progress would be made so that both governments would begin to work together to address this very large trade imbalance."
The visit also served as a political football, with Democrats Thursday lambasting the administration's foreign policy and Hu's lack of commitment.
"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," Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney said in a statement.
"I am extremely disappointed that President Hu did not commit to take concrete steps to allow China's currency to reflect market forces," added Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is sponsoring legislation that would withhold certain economic benefits from China if it does not move faster on currency reform.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley was less caustic, saying 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," the Iowa Republican said in a statement.
Grassley and Baucus have sponsored a bill together that would increase the United States' ability to punish countries that manipulate their currencies.
FOX News' Michael Levine and The Associated Press contributed to this report.