|Hu is getting plenty of face time with Obama, including a second dinner. It will mark the first such event in China’s honor in 13 years.|
White House warm for China’s Hu
D.C. state dinner could help to ease economic tension
WASHINGTON — After feeling snubbed, slighted even, when he visited five years ago, President Hu Jintao of China is getting a do-over — plus the White House state dinner he was denied back then.
Tonight’s opulent, black-tie affair with President Obama — the grandest of White House soirees — will mark the first such event in China’s honor in 13 years and could help smooth tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
Some big questions remain: Who will cook? Who is coming to dinner? Can the White House avoid mistakes like those that marred the reception when a protocol-conscious Hu arrived for an April 2006 summit?
For starters, Hu was unhappy that President George W. Bush opted for lunch over a state dinner.
Bush held few state dinners as president, preferring workmanlike visits with foreign leaders over eating meals in a tuxedo. He also was sensitive to concerns in the United States about human rights in China and was reluctant to be seen as going all out for Hu with a state dinner.
But then Hu’s pomp-filled welcome on the South Lawn was spoiled when a woman protesting China’s treatment of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement began shouting during his remarks. Bush apologized after he and Hu went into the Oval Office.
Compounding the insult, a White House announcer called China the “Republic of China.’’ That’s the formal name for Taiwan, the democratic island that autocratic China claims as its territory.
Tonight’s affair will return the hospitality that Obama was shown at a state dinner in Beijing on his November 2009 visit.
A personal relationship between the two leaders is important for cooperation on several pressing issues in the time left on both of their terms in office, Asia watchers say.
The visit is probably the last to Washington as president for Hu, a hydroelectric engineer who has ruled since 2002. He is expected to relinquish his leadership of the Communist Party next year and the presidency the year after.
“The only way you can move policy is at the very top, and it requires a personal connection,’’ said Victor Cha, director of Asian affairs on Bush’s National Security Council and currently a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Maybe this visit will be an opportunity to create some of that.’’
Hu is getting plenty of face time with Obama, including a second dinner. The private meal yesterday in a more intimate White House dining room after Hu landed in Washington also included Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, national security adviser Tom Donilon, and Hu aides.
Today’s schedule calls for a formal arrival ceremony, a one-on-one meeting between Obama and Hu, an expanded meeting between them that includes aides, a news conference and, finally, dinner.
It will be Obama’s third state dinner. He held dinners for India in 2009 and Mexico last year.
For each dinner, Mrs. Obama — who is responsible for planning them with the White House social secretary — recruited a guest chef to help prepare the meal. But there was no word yet on who might cook for Hu.
In fact, in keeping with its usual practice, the White House hasn’t released any details about the menu, the décor, where dinner will be served, or what Mrs. Obama will wear, and it doesn’t plan to until a few hours before tonight’s event begins.
But some details have begun to trickle out.
House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, has declined an invitation to attend, according to his spokesman and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Members of the congressional leadership from both parties were invited, Gibbs said.
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck noted Hu’s plans to visit Congress the day after the dinner.
“The speaker is looking forward to his meeting with President Hu on Thursday, which he believes will be a productive setting for substantive discussions,’’ Buck said.
The White House seemed miffed by Boehner’s decision.
“We have invited leaders from both parties and we hoped that because of the importance of the [United States-China] relationship that they would attend,’’ Gibbs said yesterday.