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Washington readies for China's 'mystery man'

From Kelly Wallace
CNN White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao is set to meet the president and vice president of the United States for talks one official described as a get-acquainted session with the man expected to become leader of the world's most populous country.

"I think he's basically kept a very low profile," said a senior aide, who did not want to be identified. "We don't have a clear picture of him yet."

The official described Hu as a "very cautious man," someone who is affiliated with the "party school" and is expected to take over the Communist Party leadership later this year -- but someone who also could be a reformer.

In his first visit to the United States, Hu is expected to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. The two met for the first time during the president's visit to China in February.

Before going to the White House, Hu is scheduled to meet Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday morning and have lunch at his residence, Cheney spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise said. This will be the first time the two men will meet face-to-face, she added.

Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, expected to become China's next leader, is on his way to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington. CNN's Jaime Florcruz reports (April 29)

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Hu, often coined as mysterious by the media, met with U.S. senate leaders on Tuesday and dined at a working dinner with Secretary of State Colin Powell in the evening.


The senior aide said both sides are expected to raise the issue of Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.

The United States recognizes one China, with Taiwan a part of it, and adheres to the policy that China and Taiwan need to peacefully resolve any differences through dialogue.

However, the official said conditions have changed in the region. China "undeniably" has been spending money on its military, and much of that is being used to threaten Taiwan against taking steps towards independence, the official said.

Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is required to provide Taiwan with the necessary weapons to defend itself.

"Chinese actions," the official said, "force us to increasingly rely" on the United States' responsibilities towards Taiwan.


U.S. officials are also expected to press the Chinese leader on other thorny issues, such as human rights and the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

"We press them on those issues of concern to us, but at the same time we cooperate with them," Powell said Tuesday.

But a press release from Democratic whip Nancy Pelosi's office said Hu had refused four letters from Congress members which had raised human rights issues and urged China to release political prisoners

"I am extremely disappointed that the vice president refused to accept these letters," Pelosi said in a statement.

"I had been hopeful that we could at least talk about human rights issues in China and Tibet, but Mr. Hu's refusal demonstrates how serious the problem remains. China's human rights abuses continue to be an obstacle in developing the full potential of relations between our two countries."

U.S. ties with China soured after the crash between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet last year and NATO's accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.

Asked about the relations between the two countries now, the senior administration official said, "The president said he wants to work towards a candid, constructive relationship" with China ... I think we are getting there."

U.S. officials say they have had good cooperation from Beijing in the war on terror, praising the Chinese for sharing information and trying to get a system in place to disrupt terrorist financing.

On the question of what to do about Iraq, U.S. officials say the Chinese attitude has been "evolving."

The senior aide said while the Chinese have spoken out against any military campaign to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, they now say that anything that is done should conform with international law and be done with the United Nations.




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