Xi opens way to new relations with US

Updated: 2013-03-20 07:14

By Li Xiaokun and Zhang Yunbi in Beijing and Zhang Yuwei in New York (China Daily)

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 Xi opens way to new relations with US

President Xi Jinping meets US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday, the first high-level visit by the US since September. Wu Zhiyi / China Daily

President Xi Jinping told US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in Beijing on Tuesday that he wants to build a new type of relationship with Washington centered on core interests.

It was Xi’s first major international meeting since taking office last Thursday. It was also the first high-level China-US contact since then-defense secretary Leon Panetta visited Beijing in September.

Xi’s emphasis on “core interests” was a polite but firm reiteration of the bottom-line nature of China’s view of relations with the US, analysts said.

Lew’s visit, to be followed by those of other high-ranking US officials — including David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, and his boss, Secretary of State John Kerry — shows that Washington has expectations of the new Chinese administration, experts said.

“I attach great importance to China’s relationship with the United States,’’ Xi told Lew, who was confirmed as Treasury secretary in late February.

Diplomats and economic officials from each side, including China’s newly appointed finance minister, Lou Jiwei, attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“In the China-US relationship we have enormous shared interests, but of course, unavoidably, we have some differences,” Xi said.

According to a news release from the Foreign Ministry after the talks, Xi said China stood ready to work with the US to “respect and take care of each other’s core interests and major concerns and properly handle differences”.

Beijing wants to “open a path of new relations between major countries”, he said.

Liu Hui, a researcher on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Xi mentioned “core interests” because in the past Washington’s attitude on issues concerning the East China Sea and South China Sea irritated Beijing.

“It is a polite yet firm request for Washington to ensure China’s national interests and achieve equality in that regard,” Liu said.

Ann Lee, an economics professor at New York University, said Lew’s trip, soon after the announcement of China’s new government, “is certainly a way to court the new Chinese leadership”.

“The timing is an acknowledgement and perhaps an offer of support,” she said.

Lew and the upcoming visits by Cohen and Kerry are signs of the US “pivot to Asia” policy, said Jon Taylor, a political-science professor at Houston’s University of St. Thomas.

“It might be a hopeful sign in that it appears that the US is reaching out to China’s new leadership team as co-equal peacekeeping, economic and diplomatic partners,” Taylor said.

Xi also said on Tuesday that intertwined economic interests are the “cornerstone” of bilateral ties.

Trade between the world’s two biggest economies reached a record $484.68 billion in 2012, up 8.5 percent from the previous year.

“Both sides should take an objective look at the other’s stage of development, respect each other’s development interests, and take each other’s opportunities and challenges as their own,” Xi said, according to the ministry release.

Timothy Speiss, an executive with EisnerAmper LLP, a New York consulting and accounting firm, said Lew and Xi’s meeting on trade and commercial policy would “be of benefit to the global economy”.

China’s economy has grown at an average of around 10 percent a year for the past three decades, allowing the country to accelerate past international competition to become the world’s second-largest economy,” he said. “China’s markets have opened to the rest of the world, trade has increased dramatically and many of China’s citizens have joined an emerging middle class.”

The Academy of Social Sciences’ Liu said the Chinese president was referring to his country’s concerns in the economic sphere, including barriers to Chinese investment in the US.

Lifting Washington’s ban on exporting certain high-tech products to China and having it grant the country market-economy status are also among Beijing’s aims, Liu said.

“China and the US are now positioned at their respective phases of development, and if Washington refuses to share more of its comparative advantage, such as leading technology, the trade deficit, which is now Washington’s biggest headache in bilateral ties, will remain unchanged,” Liu said.

In response, Lew told Xi that the US attaches great importance to China’s concerns. The Treasury secretary was traveling not only in his capacity as a cabinet official but also as a “special representative” of US President Barack Obama. An Associated Press report suggested Lew might have addressed a range of issues beyond finance and economics.

“The (US) president is firmly committed to building a relationship of growing strength,” the AP quoted Lew as telling Xi during their meeting.

Obama, the secretary said, wants healthy competition with China and will properly handle disputes.

“I can say we have a seamless connection,” Xi said, referring to the presence of each country’s new top financial official.

Several news outlets quoted a US official as saying that the 45-minute meeting, which Lew described as “candid and direct”, covered currency exchange, intellectual property, cybersecurity and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It also touched on the situation in Cyprus, which is seeking a financial rescue from its fellow European Union members.

Both Xi and Lew agreed on the importance of the high-level China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue to their countries’ relationship.

Also on Tuesday, Lew met with Xu Shaoshi, head of the National and Development Reform Commission. He was also scheduled to meet Premier Li Keqiang before leaving China on Wednesday.

Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said Washington’s quick arrangement of the visit signals US expectations of the new Chinese leadership. The trip also will help set the course for how relations develop, he added.

Taylor said: “The most pressing issue for China’s leadership and the Obama administration to tackle is establishing mutual trust.”

Kerry and General Martin Dempsey, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is Obama’s top military adviser, will visit China in April.

Contact the writers at lixiaokun@chinadaily.com.cn, zhangyunbi@chinadaily.com.cn and yuweizhang@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily 03/20/2013 page1)