BEIJING – Chinese President Hu Jintao (search) on Saturday postponed his official visit to Washington next week due to Hurricane Katrina (search), but he and President Bush agreed to meet on the sidelines of a U.N. assembly in New York later this month.
The move upset Hu's plans to try to polish Beijing's image in Washington amid strains over textile imports, China's growing economic and military power, human rights and other issues. It would have been Hu's first U.S. visit since becoming president in 2003.
Hu talked with Bush by phone and the two leaders agreed to postpone a meeting planned for Wednesday "due to the special condition faced with the U.S. government in handling with the serious disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The White House also said Saturday that Bush had to cancel his meeting with Hu because of the hurricane's aftermath but the two leaders agreed to meet in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting in mid-September.
The Chinese statement didn't say whether Hu also was postponing other parts of his U.S. itinerary that included a speech Thursday at Yale University — Bush's alma mater.
But officials in the state of Washington said Hu had postponed the majority of his itinerary there, including a two-day stopover in Seattle.
The Chinese president had been scheduled to begin his U.S. trip in the Seattle area, with planned visits to the Microsoft (search) campus in suburban Redmond, an event hosted by Boeing Co. (search), a major public address and a state dinner.
"We regret that we will not be able to welcome President Hu and his delegation to Washington state on Monday but appreciate his sensitivity to the impact of the tragic hurricane on the American people," Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire (search) said in a news release.
"We have an important trade and cultural relationship with China and look forward to greeting President Hu in the future," the statement added.
The announcement came after Hu's government on Saturday offered $5 million in aid to Katrina survivors and said it would send medical personnel if necessary.
"At a time when the American people face the difficulty of a serious natural disaster, the Chinese people stand steadfastly with them," the Foreign Ministry statement quoted Hu as saying.
Hu and Bush agreed to hold a bilateral meeting when they attend ceremonies in New York for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. That event takes place Sept. 14-16.
The two leaders agreed to reschedule Hu's visit at a "time of mutual convenience," the Foreign Ministry statement said.
The trip was planned amid tensions over American efforts to restrict surging imports of low-priced Chinese textiles, which U.S. producers say are threatening thousands of jobs. Two rounds of talks — the second of which ended Thursday in Beijing — failed to produce a settlement.
Beijing regards such a fence-mending mission as an increasingly urgent priority. Chinese leaders have watched with alarm as a series of strains in recent months marred ties with Washington, their biggest trading partner and the last superpower.
In addition to the textile dispute, criticism erupted over a bid by state-controlled oil company CNOOC Ltd. (search) to buy Unocal Corp. (search) Opponents said the deal could threaten U.S. national security. The criticism prompted CNOOC to drop its bid in August.
In July, a Pentagon report said China's growing military power could eventually threaten other Asia-Pacific countries. And this week, Beijing denied a U.S. State Department report that said it maintains elements of a biological warfare program in violation of international treaties.
The Bush administration describes its relations with Beijing as positive. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) told The New York Times in an interview last month that China must make significant changes in its economic policy. Rice expressed concern about its military buildup and its record on human rights and religious freedom.