Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping began his tour of the United States with a “friendly but firm” reception from US President Barack Obama. This was followed by a State Department lunch with US Vice President Joe Biden and a visit to the Pentagon. Meanwhile, China's Premier Wen Jiabao said his country was ready to increase its participation in efforts to resolve Europe's debt crisis, after holding talks with EU leaders in Beijing on Tuesday.
Chinese Vice President begins US tour, gets “friendly but firm” reception
During Mr Xi's dialogue with Mr Obama in the Oval Office, the US President was “friendly but firm” with Mr Xi, who is expected to assume the Chinese Presidency in March 2013. Mr Obama told the Chinese heir apparent that Beijing must abide by the same trade rules as other major global powers and pledged to continue pressing China to improve its human rights record.
Mr Obama sought to reassure Mr Xi that the US welcomed China’s “peaceful rise” but also indicated that frictions would remain in mounting economic and military rivalry between the two countries.
Mr Xi’s meeting with Mr Obama was the centrepiece of a largely scripted visit that could boost the Chinese Vice President’s international standing and show him as able to direct China’s relations with the US when he assumes Presidency.
During the meeting, each leader smiled and nodded as the other spoke and they shook hands.
Mr Obama’s tough tone was significant for the events seen as sizing-up sessions. Obama is under election-year pressure from Republican presidential hopefuls accusing him as being too soft on China, and has adopted a firmer tone with China in recent months. It remained unclear how much of Obama’s stance was political posturing at a time when anti-China sentiment in the US is running high.
Like Mr Obama, Mr Xi will not want to come across as a pushover in the face of US pressure as he has to demonstrate his strength and resolve to the Communist Party apparatus and nationalist sentiment at home.
“With expanding power and prosperity also comes increased responsibilities,” Mr Obama said as he sat side by side with Mr Xi in the Oval Office. “We want to work with China to make sure that everybody is working by the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system, and that includes ensuring that there is a balanced trade flow.”
“On critical issues like human rights we will continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of recognizing the aspirations and rights of all people,” Mr Obama said. However, Mr Obama was more cautious over Iran tensions, thanking Beijing for helping to enforce sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program.
Mr Xi said he looked forward to building a “cooperative partnership based on mutual respect” but did not address Obama’s criticism in their joint appearance before reporters.
At a State Department lunch, Mr Biden stressed that the Sino-US relationship was getting stronger, but chided China over its decision to join Russia last week to veto a UN Security Council resolution against embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Biden also voiced concern over the deterioration in human rights in China. Xi responded by defending China's rights record but saying it could always do more.
On the economic relationship, Mr Biden said China informed the US it would move forward with tax reforms this year that would increase imports and promote domestic consumption, a potential step that could resolve the US burgeoning trade deficit. However, he reiterated American concern over subsidies for Chinese state-owned companies and the forced transfer of technology as a condition for US companies doing business in China, and also described the Chinese currency as still "substantially undervalued" against the dollar.
Mr Xi on his part urged the US to ease restrictions on high-tech exports to China and create a level playing field for Chinese companies to invest in the US.
Mr Xi also visited the Pentagon, where US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta alluded to strained military ties as Washington "pivots" itself in the Asia-Pacific region in the face of China's buildup. Mr Panetta asserted that the US sought to work with China "to build an open, transparent and inclusive regional security order", while Mr Xi urged a "cooperative partnership".
Tibetan protestors and other sympathisers of the Dalai Lama protested near the White House throughout the day, but did not disrupt the proceedings.
Mr Xi's tour will take him to a farm in Iowa to Los Angeles as he seeks to ease American anxieties about China. On Wednesday, Mr Xi will meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell, as well as House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, and is likely to get a chilly and less friendly reception.
Ahead of these meetings, Mr Xi told a roundtable with business executives at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington that both countries must “effectively prevent politicizing economic issues and avoid various kinds of undue interference.”
Report: Obama friendly but firm with China heir apparent [Reuters, 14 Feb 2012]
Report: No More Valentines for China’s Xi as He Faces Bad Cop Congress [Bloomberg, 15 Feb 2012]
Report: Visit offers little insight into next China leader [Associated Press, 15 Feb 2012]
China Premier Wen Jiabao holds EU Talks
Meanwhile, China's Premier Wen Jiabao said his country was ready to increase its participation in efforts to resolve Europe's debt crisis, after holding talks with EU leaders in Beijing on Tuesday.
China was considering using Europe's bail-out funds to help address the continent's fiscal crisis, Wen said, without elaborating on how the Asian power might be prepared to contribute.
European leaders last year approached China, which holds the world's largest foreign exchange reserves, to invest in a bail-out fund to rescue debt-stricken states.
The International Monetary Fund warned last week that an escalation of the EU debt crisis could slash China's economic growth in half this year.
The two sides also agreed during the talks to redouble Beijing's efforts to attain full market economy status (MES) for China in the European Union, according to a joint communique issued after the summit.
Eu leaders have said that China does not yet meet necessary conditions - most of China's largest companies are state-owned and their leaders appointed by the government.Wen pledged that China would improve its laws and regulations in relation to foreign investment, enhance protection of intellectual property and improve its investment environment.
"China will continue to fully meet its World Trade Organization commitments," he said. "It will continue to expand market access."
Report: China, EU leaders to discuss eurozone in key summit [AFP, 14 February 2012]
Report: Wen says China ready to be more deeply involved in solution for Europe[Bloomberg, 15 February 2012]
Report: China says ready to help solve EU debt crisis [AFP, 15 February 2012]