WASHINGTON — For Americans looking at the U.S. visit of China's likely future leader for a clue about where relations between the two nations might be headed, the signal has been clear: no change in substance, but perhaps a change in style.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping toed the line set by the man he is to succeed as Communist Party chief in the fall, Hu Jintao, who made a grand U.S. state visit a year ago.
Xi, who is expected to become president in 2013, made clear that China wants a deeper relationship with the United States and even welcomes its engagement in the Asia-Pacific, as long as it respects China's interests and concerns in its own neighborhood.
"It was a scripted trip without surprises," said Jeff Bader, East Asia policy director during the first two years of the Obama administration.
But while Xi, 58, has said little new — and did little to narrow the gaping differences that exist between the United States and China on issues such as human rights — he made a conscious effort to appear less remote than the aloof Hu. He held a long meeting with Obama and received a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon — unprecedented for a visiting vice president.
His two-day visit to Washington was followed by a trip Wednesday to Muscatine, Iowa, where Xi visited in 1985 as a 31-year-old to learn about crop and livestock practices.