Xi's three-country charm offensive builds image
Vice-President Xi Jinping arrived back home from Turkey yesterday, wrapping up a 10-day image-polishing trip that also took him to the United States and Ireland.
During his five days in the US, China's leader-in-waiting visited four cities: Washington in the east, Muscatine and Des Moines in the Midwest, and Los Angeles in the west.
He then headed to Ireland, where he stayed in Shannon and Dublin. In Dublin, Xi vowed that China would consider more involvement in helping address European debt issues.
In Turkey, trade imbalances topped his agenda with top officials, but Xi also called on Turkey to crack down on separatist activities by anti-China forces in its territory.
Ireland was the only European Union nation Xi (pictured) visited.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Xi's trip to Ireland, which would hold the EU presidency during the first half of next year, injected a new driving force behind the development of Sino-EU relations.
The importance of the EU as China's largest trade partner would increase as the relationship and co-operation between the two sides expanded, Yang was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
Ding Chun, a European affairs expert at Fudan University, said Xi's trip touched on three continents that play major roles in China's foreign affairs.
'Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, certainly plays a role in Middle East affairs,' Ding said. 'And the visit to a future EU-president country means that China attaches importance to Sino-EU ties.'
But the trip was cautiously planned to allow Xi to put aside thorny issues between China and these countries, with the intent more on showing the human face of the future Chinese leader.
In the US, Xi was reunited with the Iowans in Muscatine he met 27 years ago. He even got into a tractor in a Des Moines farm visit, then watched an NBA game in Los Angeles.
He continued his charm offensive in Ireland, where he was given a taste of Emerald Isle's culture - sipping an Irish coffee and trying out his skills at hurling and gaelic football at Dublin's Croke Park stadium.
He also attended a performance of Riverdance, the popular international show based on Irish step dancing. In County Clare to the west, Xi visited the famously beautiful Cliffs of Moher and a dairy farm where a newborn calf was named after him.
Mainland internet users and state media gave positive feedback on Xi's approach, which was in contrast to the often stiff-looking President Hu Jintao .
'His football kicks are powerful and win the applause of many, showing a tender side of Chinese leadership,' said the microblog thread of an internet user using the name Beijingzhangjiansheng.
Another microblog thread by Wangqian99 said, 'Xi showed his amiable side.'
Zhang Lifan , a historian formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Xi's upbringing, which saw him overcome hardship - his father was jailed during the Cultural Revolution and Xi worked in a Shaanxi county under Mao Zedong's down-to-the-countryside movement - has shaped Xi's character and made him more down to earth.
'But his human side had not been noticed until his recent trip,' Zhang said. 'I believe Xi is building up his personal image abroad first, and I hope he will then show the same image at home.'
But Zhang said Xi's working style was still an unknown factor.