Wen Jiabao

Reserved Hu a sharp contrast to jovial Jiang

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 April, 2006, 12:00am

The last time US President George W. Bush hosted a Chinese president, in 2002, he took Jiang Zemin and his wife to his Texas ranch for a barbecue.

The two men had some time to themselves to chat about North Korea's nuclear programme and the looming war on Iraq before joining their wives for lunch.

When Mr Bush meets President Hu Jintao in Washington this Thursday, the setting will be different.

Even though the White House has declined to call it an official state visit, Mr Hu will still receive full military honours with a 21-gun salute on the South Lawn.

Although Mr Hu will forgo the official state dinner, he will stay at Blair House opposite the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, the official residence for the American president's guests.

Mr Bush will also be dealing with a very different president than Mr Jiang.

Mr Jiang was a jovial statesman who often spoke in English in public. He accepted several interviews with the American media during his presidency, including his first in 1990 with Barbara Walters, when he said the Tiananmen crackdown was 'much ado about nothing'.

The former president used an interpreter when taking questions at joint press conferences with Mr Bush, but always ended his replies with a 'thank you' in English. He speaks several languages and was party chief in Shanghai and an ambassador to Romania before becoming president.

'Jiang likes to come across as spontaneous,' said Kenneth Lieberthal, political science professor and China specialist at the University of Michigan.

'He likes to show his personality. He would switch to English on occasion.'

In contrast, Mr Hu has a more reserved character. An engineer by training, he was party secretary in Tibet before becoming one of the top members of the Communist Party.

Just like Premier Wen Jiabao, he speaks only Chinese. Known for his photographic memory, Mr Hu often addresses the public without notes, but his speeches do not carry many surprises.

'Hu Jintao is completely buttoned down,' Professor Lieberthal said. 'He is very, very careful. Everything is very tight. Everything is very well thought through beforehand. He has a tendency to use a lot of stock phrases that are politically correct.

'There's never a hair out of place. There's never a spontaneous gesture. There's never an unanticipated word. He's totally in control of himself and his subject.'

Mr Hu will be visiting the US at a time when China's international standing is stronger than it was during Mr Jiang's visits in 1997 and 2002.

On international issues, Mr Bush is likely to seek China's support for the American positions on Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programmes, in which China is playing an important role as a mediator. Beijing announced last week that it would send a top envoy on arms control to Iran and Russia in an effort to defuse the nuclear standoff with the west.

'China has become a major stakeholder in international affairs and has begun to establish itself as a responsible power,' said Jing Huang, a China specialist at the Brookings Institution.

'This is a summit in which Washington may ask Beijing to do more. When Jiang, Zhu Rongji or Deng Xiaoping came to the US, it seemed China had more to ask than the US. But this time, you can see the US might have more to ask of China.'

China's growing international standing and Mr Hu's personal character made him a stronger leader than Mr Jiang, Mr Huang said. 'Hu Jintao is more assertive and feels more secure, not only back home but also with three to four years of his leadership fully established,' he said.