China's future paramount leader - Xi Jinping - has been in the United States since Monday afternoon visiting President Barack Obama until Wednesday before heading to Iowa on Thursday and ending his American tour in Los Angeles, California.
With high hopes that the visit will go beyond superficial formalities, both the American and Chinese press have built up Xi's visit to the United States as a test for whether U.S.-China relations will remain stable or deteriorate.
Xi's purpose seems clear enough - to continue President Hu Jintao's legacy of building a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, as he said in a Washington Post interview prior to his departure.
This decision [to visit the US] fully captures the features and requirements of China-U.S. relations in the new era, that is, to develop mutually beneficial cooperation as partners based on the principle of mutual respect, he added.
For the U.S., Xi's visit provides an opportunity to evaluate the Chinese leader's personality and to find any important indicators of leadership style.
The world is still very much making up its mind about Xi Jinping, which is one of the reasons the impressions made on this visit will be so important. We know little about his personal policy leanings, as is indeed the case with most of the incoming generation of leaders, said Duncan Innes-Ker, senior editor and economist for the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London.
Sino-American relations remain lukewarm with a little tug-and-pull here and there, especially over economic issues. But overall, no direct and dramatic conflicts have truly erupted between the two powers since the EP-3 incident (in 2001, a U.S. intelligence aircraft and Chinese Air Force plane collided off the coast of Hainan, causing the Chinese pilot's death).
However, it seems unlikely that the visit will dispel the existing level of mistrust between the U.S and China or that the Obama administration will acquire an in-depth assessment of Xi's political leanings in just five, full days.
The President of the People's Republic of China (PRC) is chosen by the National People's Congress (NPC), according to the Chinese Government's official web portal. However, it is commonly believed that the leader of the PRC is actually secretly hand-selected by a small group of powerful men, the current Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee, and then confirmed by the NPC.
The strongest evidence that Xi Jinping will in fact succeed Hu Jintao in October of this year was his election to the Vice Presidency of China's Military Committee last year, said Song Guoyou, associate professor for the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Xi Jinping, at 58 years of age, can be described as sedate, tolerant, and pragmatic, Song Guoyou also said. These characteristics in addition to his smooth and steady rise to Vice President of China make him a most favorable candidate.
Although known as a princeling, a pejorative term used to describe descendants of national revolutionary heroes who are thought to win their political positions through nepotism, Xi Jinping does have elite credentials.
The son of Xi Zhongxun, who was banished by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution, Xi worked out in the countryside for seven years before being named party secretary. These years of manual labor are recorded as his largest sufferings.
He later attended Tsinghua University, one of the most prestigious universities in China and from which most top Chinese politicians, including President Hu Jintao, graduate from.
Xi held top-rated provincial posts in Hebei, Fujian, and Zhejiang until he finally emerged as Party Secretary of Shanghai in 2007, after the corruption scandal of the former leader, Chen Liangyu. This success propelled him ahead of Li Keqiang, protégé of Hu and the former presumed successor.
Xi's greatest achievement is really to have managed to become the heir apparent to the party leadership and presidency, overcoming Hu Jintao's preferred candidate, Li Keqiang, said Innes-Ker.
By 2008, Mr. Xi became Vice President of China.
Changes in U.S-China Relations?
Xi Jinping is portrayed as knowing America because of his trip to Iowa in 1985 during which he stayed with an American family, and some Wikileaks reports that revealed him as a Hollywood film fan, and a daughter who reportedly attends Harvard University.
It seems rather superficial to assume these items and preferences indicate Xi will be friendlier towards the United States than his predecessor. However, as of now, there doesn't seem to be any reason to think China's attitude will turn aggressive once Xi assumes power.
In reality, although Xi offers a change of face in the Chinese leadership, U.S.-China relations are not about to undergo any dramatics changes.
I agree that Xi's policy toward the U.S. will be stable and continuous with little personal style. The basic structure of Sino-U.S. relations is quite stable. The new leadership in China cannot change such a structure, said Professor Song.
Xi appears determined to continue and even improve President Hu's legacy when it comes to keeping Sino-American relations steady, at the very least for the sake of business.
In a meeting with businessmen, Xi stressed that relations between the two powers were an unstoppable river that keeps surging ahead despite twists and turns, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
The economic ties between the U.S. and China are overwhelming and paramount. Total trade between the two powers amounts to almost $500 billion. China is now the U.S.'s second largest trading partner.
Neither country -- China still growing, while the United States tries to recover -- can afford to have Sino-American relations severely damaged.
Fortunately, Xi Jinping has been demonstrating a commitment to the status quo during his visit, stressing greater cooperation and respect between the two powers.
Although Xi Jinping is calling for deeper ties between the U.S. and China, there are still many issues preventing the U.S. and China from achieving mutual trust.
The two largest concerns are the economic balance between the two countries and China's sovereignty issue, Professor Song believes.
The main topics of dispute surrounding the economy involve the trade deficit and the Renminbi (RMB) currency's artificially depressed value.
The Obama administration recently announced a plan to enforce U.S. trade laws, indirectly targeting China.
On the other hand, a silver-lining is in sight.
I think there will be less tension on the trade side in the next few years. China's soaring imports will help to reduce its trade surplus, reducing the pressure on its government to appreciate the renminbi, said Innes-Ker.
As China becomes a more developed country, Chinese consumers will buy more and the U.S. hopes to become a large market for them.
For starters, Xi's visit to Iowa could actually spur Chinese investment in American agriculture.
China is rapidly running out of land and the kinds of products [it] produce[s], such as corn and soybeans. And I think they want to make sure that they have good political connections with places in the world that have a surplus of land, said economist Dermot Hayes to Voice of America.
Concerning currency, the United States continues to pressure China to stop manipulating its currency and allow the RMB to appreciate fully. Much of the world believes China has an unfair advantage through exports because of its undervalued RMB.
[China] should be doing the opposite. It should be pulling the rest of the world along, by letting exchange rates get stronger so that it would suck in more imports from the rest of the world and be a locomotive of the global economy and not just a carriage somewhere at the back of the train, explained Sebastian Mallaby, Director of the Center for Geoeconomic Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR).
China's government argues that, if it allowed the RMB to appreciate, the majority of the Chinese population would not be able to afford cost of living.
On Wednesday, American lawmakers attempted to bring these issues up during Xi Jinping's visit, but no resolution was taken. Xi Jinping proved his political aptitude and remained unshaken by the criticisms.