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Obama And The Future Chinese President

Today, President Obama met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the likely successor to current president Hu Jintao. The vice president’s travels in the United States are heavy on ceremony and high-level meetings: He’s being hosted by Vice President Biden, he met with President Obama in the Oval Office, he had lunch with Secretary of State Clinton, and he’s scheduled for a Pentagon visit and a cross-country tour (accompanied by Biden). American officials are clearly hoping to impress and court Mr. Xi, but what does he need to accomplish during his visit here?

A report issued last week by the Congressional Research Service describes a delicate balancing act for the future Chinese leader. Unlike his four predecessors, the report notes, Xi was not hand-picked by Deng Xiaoping, and some experts believe he “was propelled to the position of heir apparent because he was acceptable to two major factions who could not agree on anyone else.” For their part, American officials are hoping to establish close ties with Xi, especially after a difficult relationship with Hu Jintao, “a stiff Party official who rarely, if ever, strays from his briefing book.” Of course, even if Xi himself wants to establish a good working relationship with the United States, he must be careful about appearing too close to a country that is viewed with suspicion by Chinese leaders. Xi has about one year left to think about these and other complex problems before taking center stage: His “election” will take place in March 2013, and he is expected to serve as China’s top official until 2023.