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Sunday, 28 October, 2001, 06:43 GMT
China's future leader meets Putin
Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin
Hu Jintao and Mr Putin discussed the war on terror
China's Vice President Hu Jintao met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to discuss the war against terrorism, events in Afghanistan and the prospects for a post-Taliban government there.

We have today a high level of co-operation in the political, economic and military areas as well as in our coordination in the international arena

Vladimir Putin

Mr Hu is expected to become China's next president and was in Moscow ahead of his first visit to the West.

He is hardly known outside his homeland and his trip to Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Germany is being seen as a chance for him to step out onto the world stage.

He is due in the UK on Sunday for a five-day visit during which he will meet the prime minister, Tony Blair, and Queen Elizabeth II. He will then fly to Scotland on Wednesday.

The late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping
The late leader Deng Xiaoping anointed Hu Jintao

Mr Hu will face protests from pro-Tibet independence groups, who criticised his hard-line stance when he was in charge of Tibet in the late 1980s.

The Free Tibet Campaign says it plans to hold vigils during the vice president's visit.

"It would reflect well on Tony Blair at this time to demonstrate a commitment to pursuing peaceful solutions to global problems, such as the occupation of Tibet," said a statement issued by the group.

International dimension

The 11 September attacks on the United States have thrust the tour into the international spotlight.

Mr Hu is the first Chinese leader to visit the West since those attacks took place and America's response to them looks set to dominate his discussions.

"The objective of the visits is to strengthen our friendship and cooperation with the various countries," a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told the French news agency AFP.

"During the meetings with the leaders of the countries he will exchange views on issues of common concern, including the fight against terrorism."

Concern in Russia

Mr Hu is the third Chinese leader to visit Russia in four months.

Last July, President Jiang Zemin signed a friendship pact with President Putin, based largely on the two governments' mutual opposition to US missile defence plans.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin
Jiang Zemin will step down as president in 2003

But Mr Putin's new, improved relationship with US President George Bush has caused concern in Beijing that Moscow might change its mind on missile defence.

The two countries still share the hope, however, that the war on terrorism will help justify their own campaigns against Islamic separatists.

Anointed successor

Mr Hu, 59, ranks fifth in the Communist Party's seven-member Politburo Standing Committee and is its youngest member.

He was anointed successor to President Jiang Zemin by the late paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, and will replace him as leader of the party next year.

He will then take Mr Jiang's place as president when the latter steps down in 2003.

Outside the Communist Party inner circle, very little is known about the Chinese vice president.

Some say he has a photographic memory, others that he likes ballroom dancing and table tennis.

But what he says and does abroad will be scrutinised minutely, not only by the governments in the West but also by his own colleagues back in Beijing.

As one analyst in Beijing put it, his performance could affect his political fate.

The BBC's Lee-Anne Duncan
"A five-nation tour designed to boost his exposure abroad"
See also:

27 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's rising star takes world stage
21 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Apec unites against terrorism
19 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Terrorism war unites Bush and Jiang
24 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's elite tackles leadership question
21 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Attack heralds China-US thaw
16 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Russia and China's common ground
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