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China's Hu Says His Nation, U.S. Destined to Be Partners

In response to a query after his speech at Yale, the president asserts that political rights will be expanded `prudently.'

April 22, 2006|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Chinese President Hu Jintao told an audience at Yale University on Friday that his nation's rapid economic development was not a threat to the United States and that the two countries' shared strategic interests should inevitably make them partners.

Yale was his last stop on a four-day visit to the United States meant to quell Washington's concerns about China's burgeoning trade surplus and growing political muscle, as well as build business ties.

His speech to an audience of about 600 students and professors was also broadcast live in China except for a brief question-and-answer session in which Hu was asked whether Beijing views the United States as an ally or adversary, and if China's economic development comes at the cost of political rights.

Hu answered that China would open its political system gradually and "prudently," but that the decades of booming growth "demonstrated that China's political system suits its development."

Hu, 63, did not directly address issues that were the focus of his Thursday meeting with President Bush: China's trade imbalance with the U.S., the value of Beijing's currency and its reluctance to press Iran to rein in its nuclear program. But he portrayed America and China as equals and allies, and seemed to answer Bush's call for China to become a responsible "stakeholder" in world affairs.

"Both China and the United States are of significant influence in the world," he said. "Our two countries must not only become stakeholders, but should also become partners in constructive cooperation."

The audience at Yale, Bush's alma mater and the university that played host to America's first Chinese graduate in 1854, was receptive and polite.

Students giggled when Hu's translation earpiece fell out of his ear and when he clapped along with the audience applauding him. But his speech was uninterrupted by hecklers -- unlike the previous day at the White House when a protester in the news media stands diverted cameras from Hu with her shouts.

Hu's motorcade in New Haven passed through a gantlet of, on one side of the street, thousands of supporters waving red Chinese flags in pride and, on the other, protesters who hoisted banners denouncing the treatment of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement in China. Falun Gong members have dogged Hu's every stop, and a Chinese official said he was infuriated by Thursday's disruption.

This time, the demonstrators were matched by bused-in supporters who blared the Chinese national anthem in counterpoint to the protesters' bullhorns. Dong Liang, a 28-year-old art student from Providence, R.I., boarded a bus before sunrise with four friends to see the president.

"There is a perception here that China is a threat to America. He is here to say that is not true and good relations are very important to each other," he said.

The language of business leaders Hu met with this week in Seattle seemed to have rubbed off on him; he talked about "win-win outcomes" in joint ventures in China, and how his country's economic development lifted markets around the world.

He spoke about China's consistent 9% annual growth over two decades that had lifted millions of its 1.3 billion people out of poverty.

But in an effort to downplay the power of the surging economy as Beijing holds a growing trade surplus with the U.S., he noted that China's per-capita gross domestic product was about $1,700 and that his country did not rank in the world's top 100.

"China's development will not compromise the interests of other nations, nor will China's development threaten anyone," he said.

Hu asserted that China's attention was focused not on exercising influence on world affairs, but on the internal struggle to resolve imbalances between wealthy urban centers and poor rural areas and maintain "social harmony."

"We need to concentrate our energy and resources on resolving those problems, and that's why we hope to see a peaceful international environment," he said.

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