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Chinese Vise President Xi JinpingBy Greg Hugh, Staff Writer

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping concluded his recent visit to the United States when he left Los Angeles, California, wrapping up his official visit to the Unites States completing the first leg of his three nation tour which also took him to Ireland and Turkey.

Xi visited Washington, DC, the state of Iowa and Los Angeles during the five-day trip to America as a guest of his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden. He met with U.S. President Barack Obama and held talks with Biden. He also participated in a number of trade and economic events and had wide-ranging contacts with the American people from all walks of life.

Xi’s visit was extensively covered by the media so this article will only provide some highlights and present some interesting personal facts about his eventual rise to leader in October at the 18th Communist Party Congress, when he will probably be appointed general secretary of the party, and then successively be named president and head of the army.

Underscoring the importance of China-U.S. relations, Xi was given an extraordinary welcome, including a long Oval Office meeting with President Obama, an elaborate reception at the State Department, and a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon. Technically, Xi's visit simply reciprocates Vice President Joe Biden's trip to China last year, but for the U.S., the real goal seems to be getting a better read on the man about to lead the world's most populous country.

Following are a few insights culled from a few media resources located both in the U.S. and abroad into China’s mystery man that is heir apparent to the presidency of China.

Xi is known as an outgoing, charming figure with a sharp mind.  He is fifty-eight years old, has a daughter at Harvard University and is married for the second time.  His wife of 20 years is folk singer Peng Liyuan who is also a civilian member of China's People's Liberation Army and currently holds the civilian rank comparable to that of a major general.

What else do we know about him?  Xi Jinping (pronounced Shee Jeen-ping) is a man "full of contradictions," says Damian Grammaticas at BBC News. He was born into affluence, a Communist Party "princeling" whose father, a hero of the Communist Revolution, rose to the post of vice premier before running afoul of Chairman Mao in 1962. When his father was purged, 15-year-old Xi was sent to a poor, remote village, where he lived in a cave and labored in the field for seven years. He later worked his way up in the party, attaining senior positions in several wealthy, relatively business-friendly coastal provinces. Until very recently, Xi's wife, famed folk singer Peng Liyuan, was the most famous member of his family.

According to biographic sources, Xi has paid his dues by dealing with a smuggling scandal in the southern Fujian province and presided over robust economic expansion in the eastern province of Zhejiang.  He has a reputation as a troubleshooter, having taken over as party boss in Shanghai in 2007 after his predecessor Chen Liangyu was toppled in a corruption scandal.

The vice president has degrees in engineering and law from the prestigious Tsinghua University, the alma mater of current president Hu Jintao and other senior leaders.  He was put in charge of ensuring the success of the Olympic Games in 2008 and the general view is that he succeeded with flying colors.

During his career, Mr. Xi has been responsible for Hong Kong and Macau affairs and is head of the Central Party School.

While Xi is widely regarded as more at ease with counterparts than the stiff and staid Hu, he will not call the shots on policy until he fully takes the reins of power. The diplomatic rhetoric he used in his appearances through his visit in the U.S. was tried and tested, echoing the tone of the state visit to Washington by Hu a year ago. It appears that Xi stuck to tightly scripted public appearances while his focus seems to be on forging relationships.

What does Xi's visit tell us about U.S.-China relations?  Xi is more personable than Hu, or any recent Chinese leader, and seemed very comfortable in his meeting with Obama and other top officials, embodying his country's newfound confidence. "The world hasn't seen a leader like him in China before," says ABC News in an analysis by its Beijing bureau. Previous leaders grew up during a time when China was heavily dependent on U.S. aid, but "Xi was just 24 in 1978, the dawn of China's transformation from a closed, communist economy to the international powerhouse that it is today. Many Chinese in his generation hold respect for the U.S., but no longer feel as indebted nor, perhaps, as grateful." Still, Xi feels comfortable enough about the U.S. that he's sending his daughter to Harvard.

As for recent moves by the Obama administration to assert a more robust role in the Asia Pacific region, Xi said China welcomes "a positive role" by the United States. But, he added "We hope at the same time, the United States will respect the interests and the concerns of China."

Xi, in one of his speeches, reiterated standard Chinese talking points for dealing with the United States: urging the U.S. to continue to support a "One China" policy and oppose any moves toward Taiwanese independence, to honor its commitment to recognize Tibet as part of China, and to work together on dealing with nuclear ambitions by North Korea and Iran. Xi responded as Hu did when he met Obama last year by defending China's human rights record but saying it could always do more.

Groups concerned about human rights in China, including the Tibetan community, Taiwanese, and Falun Gong practitioners, said they would track Xi’s visit across America with protests organized in Washington D.C., Des Moines and Los Angeles.  Such demonstrations did take place at these locations but they did not disrupt any of the events or ceremonies. 

After meeting with Obama, congressional leaders, and other top officials in Washington, Xi flew to Muscatine, Iowa, to reunite with the family that hosted him during his first visit to the U.S. (He came here to study advanced hog-raising techniques in 1985.)  He flew to Des Moines, Iowa, where he attended a gala dinner sponsored by Iowa’s trade association for pork, soybeans, and corn, and a U.S.-China symposium sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Iowa exports to China hit US$599 million in 2010, a 1,231 percent increase from 2000, according to census data. That was the fourth-largest export market for Iowa. Iowa imports from China were US$1 billion in 2010.

During their visit in Des Moines, Iowa, officials from the U.S. and China signed a five-year deal to guide discussions on food security, food safety and sustainable agriculture.

Iowa’s top elected and business officials view Xi’s visit as a chance to build upon the relationship and boost trade even further.  Gov. Terry Branstad compared Xi’s visit with those of Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959.  “And in fact, economically, it may be even more important to Iowa’s future,” he said.

Concluding their visit to Iowa, the delegation flew to Los Angeles where they met with Gov. Jerry Brown and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s busiest, where the group agreed to work more closely to bolster trade relations while reducing emissions from diesel ships that carry cargo containers across the Pacific Ocean. 

China is already the lead trade partner for the Port of Los Angeles, with imports and exports valued at US$133 billion last year. Additionally, total trade between China and Los Angeles jumped 966 percent over the past 16 years, from a mere 281,214 shipments exchanged in 1995 to nearly 3 million by 2011.

"The import and export business has been more balanced than before," said Li Shadoe, chairman of China Shipping.

"In the old days, we sent a full ship to Los Angeles from China, but going back it was empty," Li said. "Now we actually have ships coming back about 50 percent full and I believe with this visit, we will buy more from the U.S."

City and port officials are eyeing the region's fashion industry as one way to bolster exports while also adding 50,000 jobs over the next several years. "We want to see those garments go from downtown to China's growing middle class," said Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

Xi followed a busy schedule as he wrapped up his brief, whirlwind stop in Los Angeles. The itinerary included a lunchtime economic forum with U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary John Bryson and business leaders at the JW Marriott Hotel at the L.A. Live complex in downtown.

Xi also announced a deal with DreamWorks Animation to build and operate a studio in Shanghai, aimed at producing original programming for Chinese audiences.

Xi and Villaraigosa also signed an agreement with ZTE Corp., a telecommunications company based in Shenzhen, China, that operates in 140 countries. The delegation then visited a local school that teaches Chinese to students.

"In the two trips that I've made to China and to Asia, the message has been clear ... and that's L.A. is the gateway to Asia and to China," said Villaraigosa, who met Xi last December amid a two-week trade mission to Asia. "As Asia grows, so does Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said. "L.A. is uniquely poised to be the beneficiary of the trade and the tourism."

Prior to leaving Los Angeles, Xi took up Villaraigosa's offer to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. "I told him, `Look, we got to work hard, but you got to come and see the Lakers, they're America's team,"' Villaraigosa said. "He's a Kobe fan and a Lakers fan, so it works."

Could basketball diplomacy be replacing the ping pong diplomacy that emerged during the Nixon era?

Editor’s Note:  Much of the material for this article was obtained from a number of syndicated news services that covered most of the events.

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CHINAINSIGHT (CI) is published monthly ((except July/August and November/December are combined) by China Insight, Inc., an independent, privately owned company started in 2001 and headquartered in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

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