China announced Thursday that President Hu Jintao plans to attend a nuclear nonproliferation conference this month in Washington, indicating a thaw after months of strained relations and a sign of solidarity with the United States in dealings with Iran and North Korea.
After months of suspense about whether China would snub the Obama administration in anger over an arms sale to Taiwan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing that Hu would stop April 12-13 in Washington on his way to a previously scheduled visit to Brazil.
“The nuclear security summit will mainly discuss the threat posed by nuclear terrorism,” Qin said. He was cautious when pressed on China’s Iran policy, saying only that “China will continue to endeavor toward a peaceful resolution.”
The news came on the heels of an announcement Wednesday by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that China would join in talks in New York with the United States, Britain, France, Russia and Germany about how to draft tighter sanctions against Iran in connection with its nuclear program.
Meanwhile, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, arrived Thursday in Beijing, where he was expected to meet with Foreign Minister Yang Yiechi and State Councilor Dai Binguo.
Yin Gang, a Middle East expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he expected the Chinese officials to speak harshly with the Iranian envoy.
“The Iranians have disappointed China time after time with their nuclear program,” said Yin. “If Iran continues with its nuclear program in this manner, they should not expect China to acquiesce.”
Jin Liangxiang of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies said that China nevertheless would have limited powers of persuasion over the Iranians.
“China has very good political and economic relations with Iran, but Iran is very independent-minded, and I don’t think China has the position to change Iran’s behavior,” he said.
Jin predicted, however, that Beijing might be able to score some points with another nuclear offender — North Korea.
Intelligence officials in South Korea have said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is likely to visit China in coming days and that the Chinese government might offer North Korea a much-needed infusion of aid in exchange for its return to multinational talks on denuclearization.
The upcoming Global Nuclear Security Summit is a key initiative of President Obama’s to rally international support in the fight against nuclear terrorism. More than 40 heads of state have been invited to attend. Whether China’s president would be among them had been the subject of much consternation in Washington, with Beijing giving few clues as to its intentions.
Beijing announced in late January that it was suspending security exchanges with the United States over Washington’s $6.4-billion arms sale to Taiwan. Relations also have been frayed by Obama’s meeting in February with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader; by U.S. demands for China to revalue its currency; and by the flap over Internet censorship. LAT