Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, April 26, 2002

Hawai'i to get look at China's No. 2 man

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

For most of America and the world, the arrival of Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao in Honolulu tomorrow offers an early glimpse of the relatively unknown man expected to lead the world's largest nation during the next decade.

Hu will stop in Hawai'i for 24 hours en route to San Francisco, New York City and Washington.

"For most people in the United States, Hong Kong and even China itself, Hu is an enigma," said Christopher McNally, East-West Center expert on China.

The man almost certain to be China's next leader said in Malaysia yesterday that his image as a mystery man is undeserved.

"That description is not fair to me," Hu said.

He'll have difficulty convincing the Bush administration of that. Senior U.S. officials are eager to uncover any clue when Hu visits Washington next week as part of his first U.S. visit about how he would run the world's most populous nation.

Hu, 59, is likely to be chosen by a Communist Party congress this fall to replace President Jiang Zemin. Jiang, 75, is expected to step down as secretary-general of the Communist Party this year and retire as China's president in 2003.

"I think this is really what you would call a get-acquainted process," said China analyst Larry Niksch of Congressional Research Service.

"He has not been to this country before, has had only limited contacts with American officials, and I think the Chinese government realizes that with him about to assume these highest positions his foreign exposure needs to increase," Niksch said.

The trip, which also includes a stop in Singapore, marks a rare overseas showcase for a rising star within the Chinese regime who, despite his powerful position in the government, has given few public hints about his views.

U.S. officials and China analysts say Hu likely will work to keep his profile as low as possible during his U.S. visit, which was arranged during President Bush's state visit to China earlier this year.

Hu is scheduled to meet with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell during his Washington visit Tuesday and Wednesday. Chinese officials say Hu also has been invited to visit the Pentagon, where he would be the highest-ranking Chinese visitor since Bush took office.

Hu's visit here includes a luncheon for 200 with Gov. Ben Cayetano, a wreath-laying ceremony at the Arizona Memorial, and an evening gathering at the Hilton Hawaiian Village with local Chinese community leaders.

Walter Chang, head of Honolulu Chapter of the U. S.-China People's Friendship Association, says the visit suggests at least that China's leaders are well aware of Hawai'i as a safe rest stop in the midst of the serious business of statecraft. And Chang said he hopes the leaders' familiarity with Hawai'i may stimulate increased contact between Hawai'i and the 1.3 billion people of China.

"I am sure Hu Jintao received information that this is a fine place to stay," Chang said. "I am sure he sees Hawai'i as a friendly state, a place they should visit, where the security is good and the weather is great."

Hu is staying at the Hilton, where President Jiang not only stayed during his visit in 1997, but also tried a few hula steps and went swimming. The image of Jiang paddling in the waters of Waikiki — a contrast to Chairman Mao's annual birthday swims in the Yangtze — was broadcast widely throughout China and the rest of the world.

That image, Hawai'i Convention & Visitors Bureau chief Tony Vericella said, told China and the world that Hawai'i is a bridge between East and West and a safe place for world leaders to meet.

The repeated visits by China's leaders are also a reminder of Hawai'i's historic ties with China, which reach back to the days of the Hawaiian kingdom and include the Hawai'i schooling of Sun Yat Sen, the father of modern China, and the support by many Hawai'i Chinese of the revolution following World War II, Vericella said.

China's rapid economic growth makes it a huge untapped reservoir of visitor traffic to Hawai'i today and in the future, Vericella said.

Hawai'i is the only American state that has been allowed by China to set up two tourism promotion offices, in Shanghai and Beijing. And Hawai'i has pioneered efforts to streamline sticky visa issues arising from U.S. fears that some Chinese who receive visas to visit the United States may use them as a way to immigrate by simply slipping into the population here.

When such issues are ironed out, Vericella said, China may establish a direct air route to Hawai'i, and the 40,000 Chinese who visit the Islands every year could increase fifty-fold in a decade.

These issues don't need to be raised directly with Vice President Hu during his 24 hours on O'ahu beginning when his Boeing 747 jet touches down at Hickam Air Force Base tomorrow morning, Vericella said.

The government's ministers of tourism and civil aviation are very familiar with Hawai'i's efforts to improve opportunities for Chinese to visit the United States, he said.

But, Vericella said, it won't hurt to have Vice President Hu experience Hawai'i first hand, and for the world to see him doing it.

Although Hu's father was a humble shopkeeper, his grandparents were members of one of China's most famous and powerful merchant families, McNally said.

That fact causes some in the United States and China as well to hope that Hu's pragmatic, capitalist heritage will be revealed as China moves toward becoming "the workshop of the world," securing its position as one of the top five economies, and maintaining a considerable military presence in Asia with the world's largest standing army, McNally said.

There are three dynamics at play in Hu's first visit to the United States, said McNally, who has lived in China during many of the past 17 years.

"First, the Bush administration would like to have a frank, personal relationship with the next leader of China," McNally said. China's leaders, who have groomed Hu for the presidency for years, "are sending Hu to the United States to show a younger face of leadership, the new face."

The Chinese also would like to create a better rapport with Bush, especially to discuss concerns about Taiwan, and about fears the United States may use the war on terrorism to extend its power unnecessarily in Asia, he said.

Finally, Washington wants to know "what is Hu's vision for China during the next 10 years, and if that is what the United States would like to see."

USA Today contributed to this report.

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.