The man who is expected to become China's next president begins highly anticipated meetings in Washington on Tuesday. The trip comes as the Obama administration seeks to shift the emphasis of U.S. strategy toward the Asia-Pacific region — including changes the Chinese aren't sure they like.
Hosted by Vice President Joe Biden, Xi Jinping will visit the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. Daniel Russell, the top White House adviser on Asia, says the idea is to get to know China's vice president better, and to let him hear from U.S. officials and business executives what kind of relationship the U.S. wants with China.
"The fact that he is not the head of state but that he is intimately, closely involved in Chinese policymaking, I think it gives us a chance to get past the syndrome of dueling talking points that diplomats frequently engage in," Russell says.
There are many meetings on the agenda, including lunch at the State Department and the Pentagon visit.
"The visit by Vice President Xi Jinping to the Pentagon provides further opportunity to talk through U.S. strategy with respect to posture as well as to answer any questions that Xi may have," Russell says.
The Chinese vice president has been raising questions about the U.S. pivot toward Asia. He told The Washington Post that at a time when people long for peace, stability and development, giving prominence to the military security agenda is "not really what most countries in the region hope to see."
China expert Michael Green jokes that the White House needs new language.
"Since our friends in Beijing found 'pivot' too aggressive and threatening, I've heard the administration is going to change it to 'pirouette,' " Green jokes.
Green, who is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, sees a difficult period ahead for U.S.-China relations. The human rights situation has deteriorated. The U.S. is worried about Tibet. China and the U.S. also have differences over Iran and Syria.
"The payoff for this visit, for the administration, is going to come in a year to two, frankly, when Xi Jinping is president and then eventually chairman of the military commission and so forth," Green says.
Xi isn't just making the rounds in Washington; he plans to go to Muscatine, Iowa, where he once stayed in 1985. Then it's on to Los Angeles to talk about educational exchanges.