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Ceremony Trumps Substance at Meeting of Presidents

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. With Steve Inskeep, I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush met yesterday at the White House with Hu Jintao during the Chinese leader's first visit to Washington as president of his country. There were human rights demonstrations as the two men met in the Oval Office. One protestor, a member of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, which is banned in China, managed to disrupt the welcoming ceremony on the south lawn.

The two presidents discussed a wide range of issues, but made no major announcements, as NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA reporting:

There are tensions between the U.S. and China, and even though they were masked by the civil tone of the dialogue between the two leaders yesterday, President Bush urged greater freedom for the Chinese people during his welcoming remarks.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: China's become successful because the Chinese people are experiencing the freedom to buy and to sell and to produce, and China can grow even more successful by allowing the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to speak freely, and to worship.

GONYEA: During their meeting, they discussed the more than $200 billion U.S. trade deficit with China, access to the Chinese market, and complaints that China keeps the value of its currency artificially low. Talking to reporters afterward, President Hu acknowledged U.S. worries. He spoke through an interpreter.

President HU JINTAO (China): (Through translator) We understand the American concerns over the trading balances, the protection of intellectual property rights and market access. We have taken measures, and we'll continue to take steps to properly resolve the issues.

GONYEA: President Bush reacted.

President BUSH: I appreciate his statement very much because the American people--all we want to do is be treated fairly in the international marketplace.

GONYEA: Still, no concrete agreement for how to deal with these differences was worked out. Following the meeting, a senior White House official said that President Bush had presented President Hu with a list of six specific, longstanding human rights cases, and that Hu did offer assurances that he'd make progress on three of them when he returns home. No details on those cases were released publicly.

During a brief question-and-answer session in the Oval Office, the Chinese president was asked when China would become a democracy with free elections.

President JINTAO: (Through translator) I don't know what do you mean by a democracy. What I can tell you is that we always believe, in China, that if there is no democracy, there will be no modernization.

GONYEA: As for the protest at the welcoming ceremony, a White House official says President Bush apologized to Hu for the disruption. The protester, meanwhile, has been charged with disorderly conduct, but could face federal charges of intimidating or disruption of a foreign official.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.