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FOCUS: China hopes to boost mutual trust with U.S. via Xi Jinping's trip.

BEIJING, Feb. 11 Kyodo

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is set to begin a five-day visit to the United States on Monday in a trip meant to boost his profile and exposure as the next leader of Washington's economic and strategic rival.

In what analysts call a relationship-building tour, Xi has set up meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama, senior administration officials and congressional leaders in Washington before traveling on to Iowa and Los Angeles.

The 58-year-old Xi is widely expected to succeed Hu Jintao as leader of the Communist Party of China in fall and as state president in spring next year in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

Hu made a similar visit to the United States as vice president in April 2002 before inheriting power from his predecessor Jiang Zemin later that year.

Not many in the U.S. ruling circles are familiar with the personality and policy orientation of Xi who, like Hu, is a graduate of Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University.

''Xi is widely perceived by overseas observers to be harder on the United States than Hu,'' said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

''His political base is certainly stronger than Hu's. But Xi is likely to be just as cautious toward the United States during his first two years as leader,'' Shi told Kyodo News.

Before rising to political preeminence as the party's anointed future leader, Xi's public standing was eclipsed by that of his famous folk singer wife Peng Liyuan.

Following what are likely to be carefully scripted conversations with leading U.S. officials in Washington, Xi is scheduled to visit Muscatine, Iowa, on Wednesday for a reunion with people he met during a mission in 1985 to study agricultural technology there, according to U.S. media reports.

His planned later stop in Los Angeles apparently reflects his reported affection for Hollywood movies.

Xi already has close personal ties to the United States as his daughter is studying at Harvard University.

Xi is scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House on Tuesday. He is also slated to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Their talks are likely to touch on issues ranging from bilateral disputes over trade, currency and human rights to regional hot spots such as Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Syria.

China watches on warily as the United States pursues strategic reengagement with the Asia-Pacific region after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a move Beijing suspects as a U.S. attempt to contain the rising and increasingly assertive country.

Analysts believe that rather than seeking agreement on individual issues, the United States will put greater emphasis on getting to know Xi in person, while moving to build positive relations with him.

Renmin University's Shi predicts Xi will have plenty of thorny issues in managing relations of the two ''rather polite adversaries.''

Tensions between the world's two biggest economies could rise this year as Republican candidates for the U.S. presidential race tend to use the so-called ''China card,'' by accusing Beijing of undermining U.S. employment and businesses in a bid to win more votes.

''Although economically interdependent, strategic rivalry and diplomatic competition between China and the United States is becoming more pronounced,'' Shi said.

Similarly, other scholars express concern about whether the U.S. strategic shift to Asia could harm Beijing's ''core interests,'' referring to China's opposition to what it sees as U.S. intervention in territorial disputes in the South China Sea between Beijing and Southeast Asian countries.

''China will see greater U.S. military cooperation with countries in the region such as the Philippines and Australia as being against its interests if it feels this disadvantages China's own position in the region,'' said Zhang Zhexin, a research fellow at the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

Strategic differences and skepticism among U.S. policymakers of China's assertion that it is intent on rising peacefully as a new power means bilateral ties are at their lowest level during the past decade, Zhang warned.

''China and the United States need to build mutual trust,'' he added. ''In this respect, Xi Jinping's visit is very important since it can help provide reassurances to both sides.''
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:0PACI
Date:Feb 13, 2012
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