Lawmakers press Hu on human rights, economics

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 20, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Chinese President Hu Jintao got an earful from the bipartisan leadership of Congress Thursday about human rights, security concerns and economic relations, then courted U.S. business leaders and urged closer U.S.-China cooperation in all spheres.

Hu wrapped up the Washington portion of his U.S. visit by giving some ground of important issues to U.S. business interests, but behind-the-scenes negotiations failed to yield significant breakthroughs.

Hu left the nation's capital with little doubt about where Congress stands on a range of Chinese policies.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said a bipartisan group of congressional leaders pressed Hu for stronger protection of intellectual property and to curtail "the aggressive behavior of North Korea."

"And finally," Boehner said in a statement after their private meeting, "we raised our strong, ongoing concerns with reports of human rights violations in China, including the denial of religious freedom, and the use of coercive abortion as a consequence of the 'one child' policy.

"When it comes to guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of all her citizens, including and especially the unborn, Chinese leaders have a responsibility to do better, and the United States has a responsibility to hold them to account," Boehner said.

The biggest confrontation appeared to come from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In a statement, she said she handed Hu a letter as the meeting began outlining her "grave concerns regarding the Chinese regime's deplorable human rights record" as well as its economic and security policies. As the meeting ended, she said she challenged him on multiple human rights offenses and was "astonished" when Hu denied that China has a forced-abortion policy.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she told Hu that U.S. lawmakers of both parties are concerned about China's detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife. In a statement, she said she "was pleased" that Hu said China and the U.S. can build a stronger relationship in working on climate change.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the meeting was "productive," and in a statement stressed that he'd raised "the issues of trade, Chinese currency and the importance of Chinese investment and tourism in Nevada and across America." Reid added that the talks also touched on a range of security issues, including North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Taiwan and U.S-China military relations.

Later, Hu spoke before a U.S-China business group and called for closer U.S.-China cooperation on economic and security interests, and said that Beijing poses no military threat to any country, calling China's military spending "defensive" in nature.

"Our two countries have never enjoyed such broad common interests and shouldered such broad common responsibilities as they do today," Hu said in a speech before the U.S.-China Business Council, a non-profit group of some 220 U.S. companies that do business in China.

The speech was long on calls for greater cooperation and short on details about issues of concern to U.S. business.

The Chinese apparently failed to convince the U.S. to ease up on export controls that would have let China import more of what's called dual-use technologies — those with both civilian and military uses.

"I don't think they got anything from us other than a very smoothly run summit, which looks very good back in China," said Nicolas Lardy, a China expert who attended Hu's speech on behalf of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The lack of substantive progress on China's undervalued currency and a host of trade irritants eventually could lead to retaliatory action by Congress or future trade complaints to the World Trade Organization.

"We've had a long honeymoon period for awhile. There are bumps in the road and there going to be (more) bumps in the road," said former U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor. "I don't know what free-trade means, and I don't think anyone does. What I do know is we ought to have rules — a rules-based trading system . . . and it is working and that's the good point here."

There were private talks on greater access for U.S. beef into the Chinese market, but no deal was struck during Hu's visit.

"That's still being worked on," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told McClatchy.

The Chinese delegation agreed in negotiations to audit government computers to determine whether they're using pirated software. During Hu's visit, the Chinese government said it thinks that just one in 10 computers run on legal software.

"They say one out of 10 is legal now, and a lot of that may be in government offices. I think they'll step that up," Lardy said.

The Business Software Alliance, a coalition of U.S. companies that seeks protection of U.S. patents and copyrights in China, welcomed the government audits, but in a statement called them "incremental progress and a long way from what is required to address the problem of unlicensed use of software in China."

In another sign of incremental progress, China agreed to revisit its policy on what it calls "indigenous innovation." That's a policy of favoring Chinese firms, especially when supplying the Chinese government. China agreed to "delink" the issue from the broader area of government procurement.

"It's not exactly clear what delinking means. It's an interesting verb," said Lardy, who nonetheless thought the Hu visit was a big success. "I think we exceeded expectations easily. The number of business deals was way in advance of expectations, progress on IPR (intellectual property rights), indigenous innovation . . . We'll have to see over the next weeks and months exactly how they carry forward some of these commitments."

Leaving the Hu luncheon, Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein told McClatchy that there was little discussion during the state visit of greater access to China's financial sector, describing Hu's White House visit with businessmen and other meetings as "mostly social."

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