After Summit Pomp, China's Hu To Face U.S. Lawmakers

Fresh from dinner banquet toasts with President Barack Obama on Wednesday night, Hu begins day three of his four-day state visit with a trip to Congress, a hotbed of criticism of Beijing’s policy of holding down the value of its yuan currency and of its human rights record.

U.S. lawmakers have since 2005 threatened legislation that would punish Chinese goods with duties to offset currency policies that critics say keep China’s exports artificially cheap. But they have yet to pass a law.

The visit prompted 84 lawmakers to write to Obama urging him to tell Hu that “America’s patience is near an end and that we can no longer afford to tolerate China’s disregard” for pledges it made to join the World Trade Organization in 2001.

In the past week, China’s central bank has repeatedly set the daily mid-point for the yuan at record highs, showing that the currency has room to rise.

Offshore forwards, which imply yuan appreciation against the dollar in one year, were little changed, though, underscoring investor skepticism that the central bank would allow the yuan to continue rising after Hu’s visit.

So far China has resisted demands for faster appreciation of the yuan, a move that could help lower China’s trade surplus with the United States, which Washington puts at $270 billion.

YUAN NOT TO BLAME

Asked about the Hu-Obama talks on the yuan, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told a press conference in Washington that China had repeated its position on the yuan exchange policy many times and “this stance has not substantially changed”.

Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming said China was willing to resolve the trade imbalance through discussions, adding that the value of the yuan was not to blame, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Chen called on the Obama administration to drop U.S. restrictions on high-tech exports to China.

“As for the trade imbalance between two countries, it’s not a currency issue. The two countries should look at trade barriers and discuss the issue of free trade,” Chen said.

A Chinese trade delegation has been sprinkling deals across U.S. states, and Hu’s speech to business leaders follows the signing of $45 billion in export deals that seemed aimed at quelling anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States.

Analysts said the deal figure looked impressive, but some agreements may take years to materialize and others were closer to non-binding memorandums of understanding that still require further negotiations.

“Business deals make nice photo opportunities, but six months from now, how many of those deals will have come to fruition?” asked China analyst Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation.

Hu, who heard frank talk from Obama on currency during their summit but kept silent on the issue during a news conference, will continue his courtship of the U.S. business community with a keynote speech at a Washington hotel.

Stiff and often unsmiling in public, Hu may not be a natural salesman for winning over Americans struggling with a sluggish economy and unemployment that remains above 9 percent.

FOCUS ON THE POMP IN CHINA

In China, state media lapped up the pomp and ceremony of Hu’s visit but largely avoided mention of the rare joint news conference in Washington, where Hu answered questions on the yuan and human rights.

Newspapers splashed photos of Hu with Obama across their front pages, with headlines touting a “new chapter in relations” and “leaders hail symbiotic ties”.

State news agency Xinhua reported Hu’s comments on human rights from the press conference, in which he said China is “always committed to protection and promotion of human rights and has made enormous progress in this regard.”

Beijing residents said BBC and CNN television broadcasts went blank when the topic switched to human rights and anti-Chinese protesters, though access to foreign news channels is restricted to upscale hotels and apartment complexes.

Tao Wenzhao, a Sino-U.S. relations expert at Tsinghua University, wrote in a front-page commentary in the overseas edition of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily that the common interests between China and the United States should supersede their differences.

“The region’s peace, stability and prosperity are beneficial to both countries. The countries in the region can also share the benefits,” Tao wrote. “If military conflict, turmoil or economic recession develop in the region, it will benefit no one.”

Overall, U.S. analysts gave a qualified thumbs up to the Hu-Obama summit that produced the business deals and agreements to expand contact between their nations’ militaries and to tackle the nuclear proliferation threats posed by North Korea and Iran.

“There’s a lot that is aspirational here, and the devil will be in the details,” said Drew Thompson of the Nixon Center in Washington.

“But in principle, this has been a good summit, with the right symbolism and therefore it is a good signal that the relationship is on track,” he said. Reuters