Hu faces rough welcome in US Congress

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WASHINGTON – Chinese President Hu Jintao comes face to face with some of his sternest critics in the US Congress on Thursday as he pursues a high-stakes visit to the United States. Hu was to meet with leaders of the US Congress, a source of frequent ringing attacks on China’s rights record and economic policy as well as sharp criticism of its role in nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. President Barack Obama’s pressed Hu to embrace “universal rights” and pushing Beijing to set a “level-playing field” for US firms in China and battle intellectual piracy were unlikely to soothe congressional anger. But the message from Congress was likely to be less conciliatory. Historically high US unemployment and an unpopular decade-long Afghan war, coupled with China’s economic and military rise, have fed a narrative of US decline and fueled resentments of Beijing among the US public. The visiting Chinese leader will sit down separately with Republican House Speaker John Boehner — the third-ranking US elected official — and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Both lawmakers declined Obama’s invitation to attend a formal gala dinner in Hu’s honor at the White House on Wednesday, saying they planned to holds talks with him the following day.