Radio Australia News (online)

By Linda Mottram

China's president Hu Jintao is set to met with US president Barack Obama for talks, amid tense relations between the two countries.

President Hu is set to arrive in Washington on Tuesday, and will begin his visit with a private dinner, hosted by President Obama and to be attended by only a few senior officials from each side.

Talks are set to continue on Wednesday, before President Hu heads to Chicago for talks with business leaders. The visit will end on Friday.

Issues such trade, human rights, US arms sales to Taiwan and maritime rivalries in the Pacific are expected to be discussed at the talks.

A series of business deals are expected to be signed during the visit, including the sale of Boeing aircraft to China.

Ahead of the trip, China's vice foreign minister, Cui Tiankai said China was willing to respect US interest in the region.

He also said China was willing to enhance the collaboration and co-operation with the US in regional affairs 'so as to pursue a co-operative and win-win situations'.

But despite these comments, it's unlikely either side will budge on their fundamental differences.

For example, ahead of President Hu's visit, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton strongly restated Washington's position on China's human rights record.

"The longer China represses freedom the longer it will miss out on these opportunities and the longer that Nobel prize winners, empty chairs in Oslo, will remain a symbol of a great nation's unrealised potential and unfulfilled promise," said Mrs Clinton.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has also pledged the US will speak candidly to President Hu about America's complaint that China's currency is kept artificially low to the disadvantage of the United States.

For its part, China's fury at Washington's arms sales to Taiwan is unchanged while President Hu delivered a veiled criticism of US currency policy in answers to US newspaper questions this week.

Low expectations

Professor Geoffrey Garrett, founding CEO of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says both sides will try to lower their expectations of the talks.

"I don't think we should expect anything in bold lights here, it'll be a status quo kind of visit," he said.

He says many problems between China and the United States will continue as before after the talks.

"I think they will bubble on because they've been there for 20 years and counting in many respects."

"What I think we have in this relationship is a management of tensions knowing the stakes are so high on both sides that letting a little air out of the balloon by allowing both sides to air some grievances but keeping your eye on the big prize which is maintaining stability in the relationship," he said.

Professor Garrett says 2010 was a good test with tensions running high but nothing getting out of control.

"I think its management you know the stakes in this relationship are sky high, it's the most important bilateral relationship in the world, both sides know that."

"They know that they have a lot of fundamental disagreements...but they know structurally it's just critical to both countries and the world that the tensions are managed down."

On future China-US relations, Professor Garrett says it isn't a zero-sum game.

"We have two metaphors going on. One view is that this is really interdependence, economic interdependence or co-dependence and both sides can benefit from that, it's a positive sum game," he said.

"The other metaphor is a sort of second cold war and there's been much more talk about a new cold war."

"But I think it's in the interests of both sides that that not be the outcome and that the positive sum aspects of the relationship above all the economic ones continue to be the underlying force driving the relationship."