U.S.-China Frictions Emerge Ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's Visit

As Chinese President Hu Jintao prepares to meet with President Bush next week, experts point out several diplomatic areas that could be a source of friction between the two leaders.

China's oil industry has worked with countries that the United States has tried to isolate for political reasons -- such as Sudan, Iran and Burma -- potentially undermining the isolation efforts. Moreover, three of China's oil giants have been aggressively pursuing long-term supply contracts in Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola.

Saudi Arabia is also turning toward China and is today its largest oil supplier. In 2004, China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, became one of just five companies to win the right to explore for natural gas in the uninviting desert known as the Empty Quarter, edging out U.S. companies interested in the area. The kingdom has invested in Chinese refinery projects, and in January, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz visited Hu in Beijing.

"Saudi Arabia is taking a Chinese wife," said Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia who has extensive diplomatic experience in China. "The Saudis are not divorcing us. In Islam you can have more than one wife and they can manage that."

Next week's talks between Bush and Hu should provide an opportunity to see whether it will be cooperation or not when the two discuss Sudan and Iran. In conversations with the Chinese, Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick has tried to use China's interest in energy to win its support for tougher action on Iran's nuclear program, according to a senior administration official (Steven Mufson, Washington Post, April 15).

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