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Hu Faces Rough Welcome in U.S. Congress

Jan 19, 2011

Washington, Jan 19, 2011 - Chinese President Hu Jintao, challenged and feted at the White House Wednesday, faces a rougher welcome a day later from top US lawmakers who shunned his state dinner and branded him a "dictator."

Hu was to meet Thursday with leaders of the US Congress -- home to frequent, ringing attacks on China's rights record and economic policy as well as sharp criticisms of its role in nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea.

Historically high US unemployment and an unpopular decade-long Afghan war, coupled with China's economic and military rise, have fed a narrative of US decline and fueled resentments of Beijing among the US public.

President Barack Obama's remarks pressing Hu to embrace "universal rights" and pushing Beijing to set a "level-playing field" for US firms in China and battle intellectual piracy were unlikely to soothe congressional anger.

The visiting Chinese leader was to sit down separately with Republican House Speaker John Boehner -- the third-ranking US elected official -- and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Both lawmakers declined Obama's invitation to attend a formal gala dinner in Hu's honor at the White House on Wednesday, without saying more than that they planned to holds talks with him one day later.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, just back from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, also declined to attend the glitzy affair and planned to be in his home state of Kentucky on Thursday, missing Hu entirely.

And Reid raised eyebrows late Tuesday when he told a television interviewer in his home state of Nevada that Hu was "a dictator" -- before quickly regretting the remark.

"I am going to back to Washington and meet with the president of China. He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have," Reid told KSNV television.

"Maybe I shouldn't have said 'dictator,' but they have a different type of government than we have -- and that is an understatement," said Reid.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a frequent, vocal critic of China's rights record, planned to attend the state dinner as well as the bipartisan House leadership meeting on Thursday, her office said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen planned to hand Hu a copy of a letter she wrote to Obama urging he not accept "superficial assurances" from Hu on "security, human rights, and economic issues."

"We need to provide leadership that inspires the American people to face the global challenges of a rapidly rising China. America is counting on us," Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said in the letter, made public by her office.

And 84 lawmakers of both major US parties wrote a letter to Obama pleading with him to make clear that, with historically high unemployment, "America's patience is near an end" with China's alleged unfair competition.

"We can no longer afford to tolerate China's disregard" for international trade rules, said the group, led by Republican Representative Thaddeus McCotter and Democratic Representative Mike Michaud.

Other lawmakers have warned they will introduce legislation to counter what they charge is Beijing's strategy of keeping its currency, and therefore its exports, artificially cheap when compared to their US competition.

And some of their colleagues denounced China over its human rights record, citing Beijing's imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher condemned Obama for welcoming Hu "as if he had the same stature and acceptability here as a democratic leader" and said the United States should build bridges to China's people directly.

"Those are our allies. What do we do to them when we welcome their oppressor, their murderer, the one who's murdering their children, here to the United States with such respect?"