US President Barack Obama has arrived in China for his first visit to the Asian giant – a three-day mission aimed at convincing Beijing that Washington is its partner, not its rival.
Obama touched down in China’s financial hub of Shanghai late on Sunday after a flight from Singapore, where he and other Asia-Pacific leaders pledged to revamp the world economy but scuppered hopes that key climate change talks next month would end in a pact.
Trade tensions, the value of the Chinese yuan and efforts to combat global warming are some of the many issues expected to come up in Obama’s talks this week with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other officials.
Obama, in a speech on his policy towards Asia in Tokyo on Saturday, said the United States welcomed China’s rising political and economic clout.
“The United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances,” Obama said.
“On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.”
Vow to raise human rights issue
But Obama – whose stop in China is the longest leg of his nine-day Asian tour – and Hu will nevertheless face a number of thorny issues when they sit down for talks on Tuesday in Beijing.
On trade, Washington has piqued China’s ire in recent months by imposing tariffs on Chinese tyres and preliminary duties on some steel products – moves which Beijing has slammed as protectionist and as impeding world recovery.
The US leader is expected to counter by again urging China to reconsider the value of the yuan, which has been effectively pegged to the dollar since July 2008, when the global crisis hit key export markets for Chinese-made goods.
Washington has stopped short of calling China a currency manipulator, but has urged Beijing to relax its exchange rate regime, hinting that it keeps the value of the yuan artificially low to boost exports.
Environmental activists had held out high hopes that Obama and Hu, whose countries are the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases, would reach some kind of climate change deal before global talks in Copenhagen next month.
But that seemed unlikely after Asia-Pacific leaders conceded in Singapore that they would not reach a binding pact in the Danish capital, instead saying they were likely to back a political statement of intent in December.
Row over Dalai Lama meeting
Obama, criticised at home for not meeting the Dalai Lama during the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader’s recent visit to Washington, has vowed to raise human rights issues with Beijing, but said he would do it without “rancour”.
He and Hu were also expected to discuss the controversial nuclear programmes of North Korea and Iran.
Beyond the tough political issues, the visit – which begins in earnest on Monday when Obama meets Shanghai officials and holds a town hall-style meeting with young people before heading to Beijing – will be heavy on symbolism.
China is organising a lavish state dinner for Obama, and the US leader will visit the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Great Wall.
Obama enjoys great popularity in China. On Sunday, visitors to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Shanghai queued up to take photos of their loved ones with a replica of the US leader ahead of his arrival in the eastern city.
Town-hall style meeting
“I want to encourage my son to learn from him and his fighting spirit to reach his goal,” said 32-year-old office worker Zhang Yan, who brought her seven-year-old to the museum.
“Obama is probably the most eloquent leader we have ever known.”
The White House said that Obama would address several hundred young students at the town-hall style meeting, a format often used by the president on the campaign trail and in his first year in office.
Officials said that students were picked by department heads from universities in the Shanghai area, and questions were also solicited for the president over the Internet.
They believed the event would be broadcast on local Shanghai television, but it was unclear if people outside the city would be able to watch it.
The town hall meeting will also be streamed live on the White House web site, aiming at hundreds of millions of Internet users in China.