State visit of China President Hu Jintao

Jan 18, 2011

Post staff writer John Pomfret will be online Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss China President Hu Jintao's state visit to the U.S.

Hu comes to Washington

Hi. My question is why is U.S. policy like that? On one hand it helps with billions and trillions of USD's to Pakistan which has been supporting Taliban and also Osama. In same manner U.S. supports cause of Tibetans on front of human, religious and cultural issues at the same time it also supports China on economic issues. Why is USA not helping smaller and poor countries to become manufacturing hubs so that Chinese goods and trade can be marginalized and contained?

Because it has joined the WTO, the US can't put tariffs -- for example -- on Chinese goods in order to buy goods from, say, Bangladesh. However, if China does allow its currency to rise, that will inevitably help the economies of smaller, poorer countries because it will make Chinese goods more expensive and the goods from Bangladesh and elsewhere cheaper -- in comparison.

What about Human Rights in Tibet?

The Obama administration has spent time on the Tibetan question. The difficulty is in getting China to changes its policies there. China argues that Tibetans are better off now than they have been in the past. Some Tibetans argue that that is not the case and that ethnic Chinese are the main beneficiaries of the economic development in Tibet.

How can the two countries be more positive and less suspicious in dealing with each other? After all we have entered an era in human history only tolerance and understaning and cooperation can be helpful, hopeful and beneficial to all. Neither China nor the United States can dominate or dictate this world now or in the future.

This is a good question. Strategic trust is lacking on both sides. China thinks the US wants to encircle it and keep it down. The US worries that China is preparing for war with the US and that China competes unfairly in the economic realm. How to improve this situation? It's going to be a long tough road. One important way is by talking in great detail about strategy. China is loathe to do this because it feels that if it tells the US what it really thinks, the US will use that to weaken China.

Hu Jintao said that the international currency system based on the dollar is a "product of the past,"  many countries agree. Does the Treasury take seriously this comments?Do you think that there will be any changes at that level in the next years? Thank you.

It is going to take a long time to create a new reserve currency. It actually might not be a bad idea for the United States. But a lot of China's bluster on this front, is just that. Until China allows its currency, the yuan, to float freely, it will never become anything like a reserve currency.

I've heard the Chinese political leadership described as consensus-driven among the nine members of the ruling politburo with Hu merely being a first among equals. What is the command structure of the Chinese military? While theoretically under civilian control, how much power does the top commander (or committee) have relative to civilian leaders? It sure seemed like the military had and exercised its own agenda when Gates was visiting last week (stealth fighter tests, no commitment on military talks) which superseded the civilian government's desire for better relations with the U.S. Who or what runs the show in China today?

Great question. China's military is loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, which makes it highly unusual. Hu Jintao is technically the boss of the military -- he's the chairman of the Central Military Commission. But it's been clear for several years that Hu's ability to control the military has its limits. Indeed, Hu's ability to control many of China's stronger ministries - such as the Ministry of Commerce -- has been limited. 

Will Obama and Hu consider a trade-off on the Chinese subsidies for solar/wind vs. the declining value of the dollar vs. Yuan?

Another good question. The Obama administration has tried to tempt China with trade-offs before but the Chinese have not seemed interested. So I doubt it.

Do you think that the rising nationalistic fanatism among the young people in China, as tacitly encouraged by the goverment to shore up people's support for the regime, could evolve into a threat toward the world peace?

I agree that nationalism in China is often ginned up by the government. I do not however believe that it constitutes a threat to world peace. China is too diverse and too fragemented politically for such a movement to result in a militarily aggressive China.

What is your opinion of Johnathan Watts's book about a billion Chinese? Is China really facing an ecodisaster of major proportions?

China's environmental challenges are extraordinary. In the US we often think that China is going to "eat our lunch," but we often underestimate China's challenges -- one of them being the environment.

What messages do you believe China was attempting to send with its announcement that it has developed a stealth bomber?

My sense is that elements within the People's Liberation Army were interested in putting the US on notice that they were not happy with closer ties with the United States.

What is the Chinese government's responses to our claims that they are undercutting American products with low-wage workers, and thus causing Americans to lose jobs?

The Chinese often lecture the US on its own economic policies. And they argue that America wouldn't produce these products anyway. If China didn't produce them, other countries like Indonesia or Vietnam would.

Politicians and our business owners seem to support China's economy more than our own. If a foreign company can come here and get perks to do so, and they are prosperous....why cannot our US companies able to stay here? Are foreign countries given more perks to open business here, than our own business men...if so, why? Americans want made in the USA, American owned companies and be able to purchase what we make. Are we building up China's economy, at the risk of our own, on purpose?

I don't think we're building up our economy at the risk of our own. But I do think there's a realization that the US government needs to back US firms more strongly as they compete internationally.

Thanks for the comment, you said you thought there is a realization the U.S. government needs to back U.S. firms more strongly... Can you elaborate on this, I haven't heard of this "realization" from anyone.

US Export Import Bank has begun matching Chinese financing on big deals overseas. That's a big shift from the past.

While there've been limited press reports of U.S. attempts to address the undervalued currency issue with China, are you aware of any efforts to address labor, environmental and civil rights protections with China? Unless and until the U.S. and its politicians demand that as countries with developing economies like China become more prosperous they get on a firm path to providing reasonable wages, working conditions, environmental protections and appropriate currency valuation, the global economic playing field will remain tilted against the U.S. and the U.S. economic recovery will take longer to achieve.

This is mostly done via NGOs and other campaigners. The US government per se has not engaged significantly in backing the rights of Chinese workers.

Why are Americans more concerned about China's human rights than their own?

I don't really thinks that's the case.

American forced the 1085 Plaza Accord on Japan and Germany to appreciate their currencies so as reduce their export to America. As a result of that, the Japanese and the German economies are not growing as fast as before. Does USA try to use the same tactic to thwart Chinese economic development?

I think it's a bit of a stretch to link the Plaza Accords with Japan's slow growth rate. And Germany's economy is healthy, isn't it?

Will we need to keep lowering our standard of living to compete with China?

I think the challenge China provides the United States is this -- we need to improve our education system and our companies to be able to compete in the global economy.

One of the places I would love to vist in China: Suzhou China  How strong is the philosophy of Mao in China today? I'd love to take a month or so and just travel, talk and try to understand the diversity within the Chinese culture.

Mao remains a big presence in the minds of many Chinese. They are not Maoists, per se. But the man as the founder of modern China still has an enormous influence. Suzhou is nice. Nanjing, just up the road, is interesting as well.

When is Hu Jintao set to make his exit and who is the upcoming "president" that will likely take his place? And what exactly does a "socialist democracy" mean and how will China get there?

Hu Jintao is set to step down next year -- 2012. And by all accounts he will be replaced by Xi Jinping, the current vice president. As for "socialist democracy," I think it means the continuation of a one-party state in China under the rule of the Communist Party.

Some commentators here say that the Tibetans and their cultures are suppressed and treated badly by the Chinese. Do they realize that there are no Native American towns as prosperous and have preserved cultural relics as Lhaza and Urumqi?

Interesting point.

What is your take on Xinjiang? Are there really "terrorists" there? How does the U.S. support or not support China in terrorism?

Many Uighurs in Xinjiang oppose China's rule. Some have used violent means to oppose China's rule. The US has labeled one Uighur group as a terrorist organization.

What is the free-trade principle involved in forcing foreign companies with unique technology intellectual property to sign over rights to that IP to Chinese controlled companies if they want to sell into the Chinese market? These Chinese companies reverse engineer the technology and then compete against these same foreign companies in other markets.

This is a critical question and the US government has spent a lot of time negotiating with China over this issue.

China is like a giant Cuba. Got aspirin?

It's actually a lot different than Cuba. It's economy works. And without China Cuba would be in serious economic straits.

What are some general differences if any between the Xi Jinping generation and the Hu Jintao generation?

This is a great question but we -- in the West -- know very little about the new generation.  Li Keqiang, who will be China's prime minister, if all goes according to plane, speaks fluent English. Xi is married to a famed singer.

You've lived and worked in Beijing, and undoubtedly have both colleagues and contacts - a few words on how they - and YOU - see this visit, and whether or not you feel enthused about our countries' potential relationship in the future.

I think US-China relations is like watching paint dry. There continues to be an enormous gap between the two countries in terms of strategic trust. So, even though visits such as these are important, I think there won't be any major breakthroughs.

This concludes our discussion with John Pomfret about China and the President Hu visit.  Thanks for joining.

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John Pomfret
John Pomfret is a reporter on the national staff of The Washington Post and has served as Beijing bureau chief for The Post.
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