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Published: Saturday, 1/22/2011

Obama and Hu

Chinese president Hu Jintao's just-completed four-day visit to the United States included all the pomp and circumstance America can offer. The reality of what the visit accomplished is harder to assess than the glitz.

That will come with time, as winks and nudges about trade, North Korea, and human rights get a response from one side or the other, after pledges are examined in the cold light of dawn in Beijing and Washington.

The U.S.-China relationship is that of the 21st century's two superpowers. The Soviet Union is gone and Europe is still seeking the status that an expanded European Union could give it.

It is important to look at the situation of President Obama and Mr. Hu in their own countries. Mr. Obama faces re-election next year that could keep him in office through 2016.

Mr. Hu, by contrast, is a lame duck who is due to leave office in 2012. His anointed successor, Xi Jinping, did not accompany him on this visit, but has a trip planned to the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nevada) described Mr. Hu as a dictator last week. But things aren't that simple in a country of 1.3 billion people with competing elements.

One of Mr. Hu's, or any Chinese leader's, problems is his own military. Chinese military leaders appeared to test a new stealth jet fighter during the recent visit to China of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, without telling Mr. Hu in advance.

The Chinese military, not unlike the American military, is constantly seeking money for expansion and new weapons. The relationship of peaceful competition and cooperation that Mr. Obama seeks is different from the vision of a China that is threatened and needs a stronger “defense,” which the Chinese military leaders promote.

Mr. Hu's visit was useful in enhancing mutual understanding in the two countries, but that will not make the future of U.S.-Chinese relations any less complicated.

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