September 23, 2015 2:07 am JST
Xi's US visit

Low expectations for Chinese president against mountain of troubles

OKI NAGAI and TOMOYUKI KAWAI, Nikkei staff writers

SEATTLE/WASHINGTON -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has set off on his first state visit to the U.S., one which few predict will produce any real gains for Beijing despite its efforts to soften the mood.

     Xi arrives in Seattle on Tuesday for a get-together with business leaders before moving on to Washington, where he will hold a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday and be treated to a state dinner. He heads to New York the following day to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, which he is slated to address on Monday.

     China has made repeated overtures toward the U.S. to join it in "a new type of great power relationship." By this, the Chinese mean not a Cold War-style confrontation but an acknowledgement that both sides can cooperate on resolving global challenges while respecting each other's differences as equals. Although Beijing says Xi's visit to the U.S. is about building trust and easing concerns about China's rise, it seems intent on pursuing this ambitious diplomatic goal.

     Xi is expected to hold his ground and defend China against American accusations that it is building military outposts in the sea to its south and launching cyberattacks against U.S. government and corporate networks. With no prospect of removing these sources of friction, he and Obama are expected merely to affirm general principles, such as freedom of navigation and the safety of cyberspace. They are also likely to note progress, and nothing more, on a bilateral investment agreement that both sides identified as a top priority at high-level talks in June. No compromise appears to have been reached on U.S. demands, such as eliminating Beijing's special preferences for Chinese state-owned enterprises. Eager to gloss over such issues during Xi's trip, China will highlight bilateral partnerships on climate change and other matters.

     China's abrupt devaluation of its currency in August emboldened those who accuse it of currency manipulation. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal ahead of his visit, Xi defended that action, saying it "gives greater say to the market in deciding the exchange rate."

     The U.S. and China are considering safeguards, such as communications protocols that keep their air forces from clashing accidentally, to prevent worst-case scenarios. The prospect of inadvertent military run-ins are becoming a more real concern as the U.S. considers flying reconnaissance planes within the 12 nautical mile "airspace" over artificial Chinese islands in the South China Sea. The U.S. and China can probably agree to such precautions, a diplomatic source says. Some reckon the two powers may also agree to a no-first-use policy for cyberattacks.

The view from D.C.

The Obama administration, for its part, looks ready to broach the South China Sea situation and other touchy issues.

    The U.S. "will never shy away from pressing our concerns" to China, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Monday in a speech at the capital's George Washington University.

    America "welcomes a rising China that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and a responsible player in global affairs," Rice told the audience. "When China is invested in helping resolve regional and global problems, the United States -- and the world -- benefits."

     "Under President Obama's leadership, we have deepened our engagement with China at every level -- maximizing our cooperation on areas of mutual interest while confronting and managing our disagreements," she said.

    But Rice urged China to rein in its Internet operatives.

    "Cyber-enabled espionage that targets personal and corporate information for the economic gain of businesses undermines our long-term economic cooperation, and it needs to stop," she said.

     While reiterating that the U.S. does not take positions on territorial disputes, she called on China to respect freedom of navigation and international law in the seas to its east and south.

    Rice accused China of unjustly detaining 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and other political prisoners and said Chinese restrictions on the freedoms of expression and assembly are both "wrong" and "short-sighted." She also denounced China's repression of Tibetans, Uighurs and other ethnic minorities and its tight controls on access to the Internet.

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