Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit the United States in April, US officials confirmed. However, they declined to give details, such as whether it will be a state visit.

Mr. Hu had planned to visit the US last September, but that trip was postponed due to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, though media reports said the protocol-conscious Chinese were also upset that Washington had not made it a state visit.

Analysts saw the postponement as a face-saving exit for both sides, though US officials who spoke to reporters at a press conference in Beijing recently gave no hint that the Chinese would get their wish this time.

‘April,’ said US ambassador to China Clark Randt when asked if both sides had decided on a date for Mr. Hu’s visit.

Neither he nor visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick would give further details on the trip or Mr. Hu’s itinerary.

Mr. Zoellick, who is in China for a three-day visit, held talks last week with Premier Wen Jiabao as well as with top foreign and economic officials.

The US diplomat said he had urged Chinese leaders to play a bigger international role despite the apparent need for Beijing to tackle its domestic challenges such as rapid urbanization and rural poverty.

‘I can see why at times (the Chinese leaders) may say, ‘well, let us concentrate on the problems at home’,’ he told reporters at a press conference.

‘My point is that because of China’s size and its success, that is really impossible because it influences all the other pockets.’

In a major speech on Sino-US relations in September last year, Mr. Zoellick called on China to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the international system.

The term sparked considerable debate.

While no one doubts that China, with its economy so extensively plugged into the global economy, is a key stakeholder in the international system, analysts have questioned what it meant to be a ‘responsible’ one.

Said Mr Zoellick, ‘I was suggesting that China’s success and accomplishments made it an influential player in the global system.

‘It is important that China sees the possibility of sustaining and building that system from which it benefits a great deal.’

On the official front at least, China has been lukewarm to the term coined by Mr. Zoellick.

At a separate press briefing last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said, ‘It’s a term used by the US. China has no intention of making any comments on its meaning.’

During his meetings with the Chinese leaders, Mr. Zoellick also raised international trade and diplomatic issues, such as the Sino-Japanese spat and concerns over Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs.

Some analysts have suggested that Washington could play a mediating role in the Sino-Japanese row, though comments by the US diplomat did not suggest that he had brokered any sort of breakthrough.

On Iran, which is suspected of trying to build a nuclear weapon, Mr. Zoellick said Washington, ‘is trying to avoid any confrontation.’

Mr. Kong echoed this view and said, ‘We still believe that diplomacy remains a good choice in solving the Iranian nuclear question.’ (Singapore Press Holdings/Straits Times)