China’s vice president, Xi Jinping, began a day of high-level meetings Tuesday by greeting his host, Vice President Joe Biden, who will squire him through a cross-country tour of the United States that amounts to a get-to-know-you exercise for the man widely seen as the next leader of China.
In a day of heavily scripted encounters that included a meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office, administration officials put particular emphasis on Xi’s stop at the Pentagon, where he met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey. Xi holds the title of vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission but remains a civilian official, making his visit to the Pentagon highly unusual, officials said.
China and the United States have had a strained military relationship in recent months, with China balking at Obama’s reassertion of the U.S. military presence in Asia. Current and former officials said they hoped the visit would ease the strains by allowing the administration to clarify its intentions in the region.
As with previous visits by Hu Jintao, the current president, U.S. planners are seeking to keep the Chinese delegation at a distance from protesters and journalists.
On Monday, hundreds of people gathered outside the White House to denounce Chinese policies in Tibet. Several protesters were arrested after they unfurled a large white banner at Arlington Memorial Bridge that said: “Tibet Will Be Free.”
Daniel Russel, the head of China policy at the National Security Council, said the United States would raise human rights issues with Chinese officials. But above all, it is economic issues that U.S. officials are keen to address this week.
In a series of formal discussions in recent years, the Americans have tried pushing the Chinese to revalue the Chinese currency, the renminbi, which economists say is kept artificially low; grant greater market access to U.S. companies; and urge China to enforce laws against theft of intellectual property rights.