White House preps for Hu visit as lawmakers renew push for China action

The Obama administration will unveil its vision for U.S.-China relations ahead of President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Washington later this month.

The administration’s renewed engagement comes as Senate Democrats are considering another push for legislation meant to force China to reform its trade practices.

Democrats have also urged President Obama to demand currency and trade reforms from his Chinese counterpart during their upcoming meetings.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said this week that he expects his legislation, designed to pressure China to increase the value of its currency, to pass with bipartisan support in the 112th Congress.

"It's one of the things that's seriously on the table," Schumer told Reuters on Thursday. "I'd like to see (Obama) either support our legislation or get China to do it on its own."

Schumer had promised a vote on his legislation before May, but after pressure from the White House it didn't come to the floor.

Members of the new Republican House majority have also indicated an intention to take up legislation addressing Chinese trade practices, according to Reuters.

Lawmakers and business groups contend China keeps the value of its currency artificially low in order to reduce the cost of its exports to the United States and other countries, a practice critics say threatens American jobs.

The administration’s push for engagement with China as opposed to confrontation over its trade policies could be politically risky. China was a popular bogeyman for Democrats during the midterm elections. The country was portrayed as a poacher of American jobs, and supporters of trade with China were accused of favoring growth of a foreign economy.

The agenda for the Jan. 19 meeting between the two leaders will be previewed in several upcoming speeches by top administration officials.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner next week are expected to outline the administration’s stance toward the world’s second largest economy.

Those remarks will follow trips from several prominent administration officials to China.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled there this weekend for talks with his Chinese counterparts. His visit comes as tensions in the region are running high, after North Korea shelled a South Korean fishing village in November.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell will travel to Beijing on Sunday for meetings with senior Chinese officials, according to the State Department.