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US offers warm welcome to China's next leader

15 february 2012, 13:55
0
US President Barack Obama and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. ©AFP
US President Barack Obama and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. ©AFP
China's likely next leader Xi Jinping was feted with head-of-state-style honors Tuesday by President Barack Obama, who has his own sights set on steering US-Beijing ties in a second four-year term, AFP reports.

Obama, seeking reelection in November, met Xi, expected to assume full power as China's top leader next year, in a preview of a possible new era for the world's most crucial 21st-century political and economic relationship.

The two men spoke for an extended Oval Office meeting of 85 minutes, as Xi was shepherded through a full program by US Vice President Joe Biden, and enjoyed the rare honor of a 19-gun salute with booming cannons at the Pentagon.

The welcome, exceedingly rare for a mere vice president, reflected the importance Washington places in its relationship with Beijing, though did not paper over wide differences on economics and geopolitics.

And noisy protests from Tibetan protestors around the White House and the US Chamber of Commerce where Xi gave a speech, reflected thorny human rights questions which have tested Sino-US relations for 40 years.

Obama said that Washington welcomed a "prosperous" China and praised its "extraordinary development over the last two decades," but stressed that rising power for Beijing came with "increased responsibilities."

He also stressed that the United States intended to remain a power in the Asia-Pacific region, following testy exchanges over China's territorial claims in the South China Sea during Obama's trip to Asia in November.

"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," Obama said alongside a relaxed-looking Xi, as senior aides and translators stood by.

"That includes ensuring that there is a balanced trading flow not only between the United States and China but around the world," Obama said.

He also pledged Washington would "continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of realizing the aspirations and rights of all people."

At a State Department luncheon -- more evidence of the US desire to please the protocol-conscious Chinese -- Biden sharply criticized China's decision to join Russia in vetoing a UN resolution condemning violence in Syria, as well as Beijing's rights record.

A senior Obama aide later said the president told Xi of his own disappointment with the decision during the Oval Office talks.

Xi touched on the human rights question at the State Department, saying that China has made "tremendous and well-recognized achievements" in the area, but added: "There is always room for improvement."

"We will, in light of China's national conditions, continue to take concrete and effective policies and measures to promote social fairness, justice and harmony and push forward China's course of human rights," Xi said.

US observers will likely see that statement as a restatement of China's conflicting definition of the concept of human rights, and not as a concession to a long-held US position.

The Obama administration has spent months planning the visit by Xi, who is expected to succeed Hu next year and could serve as president for a full decade in which many experts believe that China will grow at breakneck speed.

But China is already in the firing line ahead of US elections in November, particularly on economic issues. US lawmakers accuse Beijing of keeping the value of its currency unfairly low to fuel inexpensive exports that have turned China into a manufacturing superpower.

At the luncheon, Xi said the United States and China should "should address each other's economic and trade concerns through dialogue and consultation, not protectionism, and uphold the mutually beneficial pattern of China-US economic relations and trade."

China has let its yuan appreciate since mid-2010 in response to concerns over inflation. But the United States wants China to do more and to take action in other areas including protection of US intellectual property.

Later, Biden hosted Xi at a sumptuous dinner at his official residence, and served Delaware crab cakes with corn salad, macho and basil tartar sauce and balsamic marinated beef tenderloin.

Renowned violin virtuoso Joshua Bell and pianist Sam Haywood entertained guests in an occasion grouping top US officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, which had all the trappings --- minus the White House -- of a state dinner.

Earlier, Xi and US defense chiefs agreed on the need to expanding military relations between the two powers after talks at the Pentagon Tuesday, a US military spokesman said.

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