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U.S. Image Suffers in a Changing China


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host: And I'm Steve Inskeep.

One of the world's most important economic relationships will be on display in Seattle today. Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in the United States. At his first stop, he is meeting with American executives from companies including Microsoft and Starbucks. They're doing business with China, though the two countries still have economic and trade disputes. This relationship makes many Americans uncomfortable, while others find it inevitable.

And this morning, we're going to hear how it looks from the other side of the ocean; we'll hear some Chinese views of the United States. We'll start with NPR's Louisa Lim in Shanghai.

LOUISA LIM reporting:

Chinese students flock to an education fair where American universities advertise their courses. For many of the students, enthusiasm for studying in the land of the free is tempered by fears about the difficulty of getting a visa. The stricter visa regime since 9/11 has hit Chinese students hard. An American consulate official tells them the situation's improving, with 70 percent of applications now approved. But 23-year-old Van(ph) Yu(ph) still worries about her chances.

Ms. VAN YU (Prospective U.S. Student, China): Every time we get news talk about America is more open, but when we go to our visa interview, always reject, you know. So that's why we think, where's the open? With all the--you know, international students, where?

LIM: Perceptions like this are not uncommon. Opinion polls show Chinese attitudes towards the U.S. are quite negative. According to a Chinese survey last year, only 10 percent think the U.S. is friendly to China. Fifty-six percent believe Washington's actively trying to contain China. One episode that dismayed many here was the political outcry in America caused by Chinese oil giant CNOOC's takeover bid of the American firm Unocal. CNOOC eventually dropped the bid, but the saga shaped Chinese attitudes, as Kenneth Lieberthal from the University of Michigan explains.

Mr. KENNETH LIEBERTHAL (Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan): The rhetoric on Capitol Hill about Chinese motives, and about how to deal with China over this issue, was hyperbolic. It was very inaccurate, in terms of what was actually going on, and it made many people in China feel that the U.S. really will not abide China's emergence on the world scene as a major economic player.

LIM: He predicts tough times ahead for the relationship, with the bilateral trade deficit at an all-time high and Chinese exports to the U.S. growing faster than its imports from the States. And as America deals with the ramifications of a rising China, the Chinese are beginning to shift focus.

Mr. WU(ph) SHINBUO(ph) (Professor, Fudan University, Shanghai): The relative importance of this relationship has declined in the last several years, and secondly, I think the U.S. influence over China has declined in the past several years.

LIM: Professor Wu Shinbuo from Fudan University: he says Beijing's foreign policy now emphasizes forging links with others--both to counterbalance U.S. influence, and to serve its own interests.

Mr. SHINBUO: You have to be realistic about how much progress you can make in the foreseeable future, especially with the Bush Administration in power. So in that sense, China has been trying to develop relations with other countries so that its national interest will be served in other way.

LIM: Oil has been called the new great game. And China, with its increasingly wealthy population buying cars and using ever more electricity, needs guaranteed energy security. For that, it's turning to countries like Sudan, Venezuela, and Iran, countries that are out of favor with Washington. Wary of the constraints imposed by the U.S., a self-confident China's geopolitical tentacles are spreading ever further across the globe.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.
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