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Because of Katrina crisis, China's leader postpones trip to US

BEIJING -- President Hu Jintao of China yesterday postponed his official visit to the United States this week because of Hurricane Katrina, but he and President Bush agreed to meet on the sidelines of a UN assembly in New York later this month.

The move upset Hu's plans to try to polish Beijing's image in Washington amid strains over textile imports, China's growing economic and military power, and human rights, among other issues. It would have been Hu's first US visit since becoming president in 2003.

Hu talked with Bush by phone and the two leaders agreed to postpone a meeting planned for Wednesday ''due to the special condition faced . . . in handling the serious disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The White House also said yesterday that Bush had to cancel his meeting with Hu because of the hurricane but that the two leaders agreed to talk in New York in mid-September.

Hu had been scheduled to visit Washington, D.C., and Seattle and give a speech at Yale University, Bush's alma mater, before traveling to Canada and Mexico.

The announcement was made after Hu's government offered $5 million in aid to Katrina survivors yesterday and said it would send medical personnel to the United States if necessary.

''At a time when the American people face the difficulty of a serious natural disaster, the Chinese people stand steadfastly with them," the Foreign Ministry statement quoted Hu as saying.

Hu and Bush agreed to meet when they attend ceremonies in New York for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. That event takes place Sept. 14-16.

The two leaders agreed to reschedule Hu's visit at a ''time of mutual convenience," the Foreign Ministry statement said.

The trip was planned amid tensions over American efforts to restrict surging imports of low-priced Chinese textiles, which US producers said are threatening thousands of jobs. Two rounds of talks -- the second last week in Beijing -- failed to produce a settlement.

Beijing regards such a fence-mending mission as a priority. Chinese leaders have watched with alarm as a series of strains in recent months marred ties with the United States.

In addition to the textile dispute, criticism erupted over a bid by state-controlled oil company CNOOC Ltd. to buy Unocal Corp. Opponents said the deal could threaten US national security.

The criticism prompted CNOOC to drop its bid in August.

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