On April 7, Premier Zhu Rongji will arrive in the U.S. for the first official visit of a Chinese premier in nearly two decades. After a brief stop in Los Angeles, Zhu will fly to Washington, D.C. While in the nationís capital, Zhu will open the U.S.-China environmental summit with Vice President Al Gore, attend a state dinner, and be the guest of honor at a dinner cohosted by the Foundation and several other organizations on April 9, 1999. From D.C. Zhu will visit Denver on April 10, spend the next day in Chicago, and then travel to New York City for two days. While in New York Zhu will be the guest of the American Bankers Association at a luncheon and the U.S.-China Business Council for a dinner. His final destination in the U.S. is Boston, where he will give a speech at M.I.T. on April 14.

A native of Hunan province, Zhu served as the mayor of Shanghai before becoming vice-premier. Upon replacing Li Peng as prime minister at the National Peopleís Congress in 1998, the seventy-one-year-old Soviet trained engineer, known for his outspoken manner, immediately announced plans for sweeping economic, government, financial, and social service reforms. He enjoys wide support, and a Hong Kong paper recently described him as "a courageous man who can provide the daring spirit needed for China's reform."

For many Americans, this will be the first opportunity to meet Zhu, who has been dubbed the "economic czar" for his efforts to manage Chinaís economy. The fact that China has avoided much of the economic chaos troubling Asia has been largely attributed to steps promoted by the premier.

During his visit one issue that he is certain to touch upon is Chinaís decade-long attempt to join the WTO. U.S. and Chinese officials have long been at loggerheads over the issue, but recent tensions over human rights and security have created an incentive for both sides to come up with a breakthrough in time for Zhuís visit. Officials from both sides have noted "important progress" in Chinaís bid to join the WTO, and while the details are not known, Zhu himself has suggested that areas that could be opened up include Chinaís key banking and telecommunications sectors.

Zhu recently acknowledged that, in view of rising tensions between the two nations, his visit to the U.S. may be a difficult one. However, he maintained that his goal was to "regain the momentum of building a strategic partnership between China and the United States."

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