The much-anticipated state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao has begun.
Hu and his delegation arrived at Andrews Air Force Base shortly before 4 p.m. on Tuesday and were greeted by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden. Later this evening, Hu and his top aides will join President Obama, Secretary of State Hilliary Rodham Clinton and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon for an intimate dinner at the White House.
Although this is Hu’s first White House visit since 2006, this week’s summit marks the eighth time that Obama and the Chinese leader have met in just two years. No headline-grabbing deals are expected to be announced this week, but administration officials say there will be important discussions about Iran's and North Korea's nuclear aspirations, China's currency policy, and China's human-rights records.
“This is a relationship that is always going to be complex,” a senior administration official told National Journal. “It’s never been politically popular, and it’s always been highly politicized in the United States. I think the goal here is to have a sense of realism about the relationship, to demonstrate that we’re managing the relationship successfully, advancing U.S. interests, but that we’re clear-eyed about both the differences we have and the challenges presented by China’s rise. It’s not a bumper sticker. It’s a pretty complex message, and it’s pretty complex challenge.
The highlight of the four-day U.S. visit by Hu, who is set to step down in 2012, will be tomorrow night’s state dinner—it’s only the third state visit that the Obama administration has granted. Former President Bill Clinton last honored the Chinese with a state dinner in 1997 during President Jiang Ziemen’s tenure. That black-tie affair was attended by several American CEOs eager to get into China’s burgeoning market.
The White House won’t release the list of those attending tomorrow night’s dinner, though a couple of names have already slipped out. Ambassador John Huntsman, the U.S. envoy to China who recently said he would not seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, and actor Jackie Chan are among those who have accepted invitations, administration officials confirm. Huntsman had been rumored to be a possible challenger to President Obama in 2012 although reports appeared this week that he might take on Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
There will be a few notable absentees. House Speaker John Boehner’s office confirmed that he was invited but won’t be attending. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel noted that his boss will attend Hu's meeting this week with congressional leaders.
Billy House contributed