China, U.S. politely air differences during Xi's visit

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 15, 2012 

WASHINGTON — Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, that country's likely next leader, urged the United States on Wednesday to reduce its "misunderstanding and suspicion" of China and said the two countries could expect to have different views on human rights.

Xi (pronounced SHEE) quoted George Washington as saying that "actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends" and went on to mention some of the actions China would like to see.

He repeated China's long-standing demand that the United States view Tibet and Taiwan as parts of China. He also said the United States should lift restrictions on high-tech exports to China.

On human rights, he said that because of the countries' distinct histories, "it's only natural we have differences." He added, however, that the historic trend is one of "continual improvement."

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden raised U.S. concerns about deteriorating human rights conditions in China during their conversations with Xi, including "the plight of several very prominent individuals," Biden said Tuesday, speaking at a lunch with Xi at the State Department.

Biden noted U.S. concerns that China didn't protect intellectual property rights and trade secrets, that its currency was undervalued and that Chinese companies required U.S. companies to turn over technology as a condition for doing business in China.

Biden also noted that the United States opposed China's recent veto in the United Nations Security Council that blocked sanctions against Syria for government violence against protesters.

Xi, in a speech Wednesday to the U.S.-China Business Council, didn't respond to those comments. But he didn't shy away from a brief airing of China's problems with the United States, though the tone of speech was friendly, stressing the importance of good relations between the world's largest economies.

"Despite twists and turns, China-U.S. relations have on the whole kept moving forward, just like an unstoppable river that keeps surging ahead," he said.

There was nothing in the speech that departed from China's long-standing positions and little to indicate how Xi might lead. He's expected to take over as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party later this year and become the president next year.

Xi said China "welcomes the constructive role of the United States in promoting peace and prosperity" in the Asia-Pacific region, an acknowledgment of Obama's efforts to boost U.S. influence there. But Xi also said he hoped the U.S. "will respect the concerns of China."

Douglas Spelman, a former U.S. diplomat in China who was in the audience for the speech, said he liked Xi's style.

"He was relaxed. It would seem he'd be someone you could have a genuine talk with, even if you differed," said Spelman, the deputy director of the Kissinger Institute, a policy research group on U.S.-China relations. He was a consul general in Shanghai during the George W. Bush administration.

The history of U.S. relations with communist China dates to President Richard Nixon's visit to China in February 1972. Formal diplomatic relations began in 1979.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose unannounced 1971 trip to China led to Nixon's visit, introduced Xi on Wednesday.

Kissinger called Xi's visit the beginning of a chance for the two countries to improve their relations in a way that avoids conflict.

The world faces many new challenges, including climate change and energy needs, Kissinger said, adding that the U.S.-China relationship is "a key element for dealing with the upheavals and opportunities before us."

Xi later left Washington to go to Iowa, which he'd visited as a low-ranking official in 1985. He was then expected to travel to the West Coast.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2012

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