Xi wraps up highly scripted visit to US capital

MATTHEW PENNINGTON Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON (AP) --

Visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, in line to be China's next leader, said Wednesday that Beijing welcomes U.S. efforts to assert influence in the Asia-Pacific region, but that Washington must also respect the interests and concerns of China in its own neighborhood.

Appearing before the U.S.-China Business Council, Xi spoke warmly of evolving relations between the world's two economic super powers but, as in earlier stops here, offered little new insight into how he will lead China, or whether the present tenseness in U.S.-Chinese relations might be eased.

He did say, however, he feels the United States and China must "build up mutual understanding and strategic trust."

One way to do that, Xi said, is for the United States to relax current restrictions on exports to China of higher-technology American goods.

It was his last stop in the nation's capital before heading to Iowa and then the West Coast. Earlier Wednesday, Xi met with members of Congress a day after a lengthy meeting with President Barack Obama, receptions at the State Department and the Pentagon, and a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

As with the day before, Xi stuck to tightly scripted public appearances.

With China having passed Japan last year as the world's second largest economy, Xi said his country and the U.S. "should respect each other's core interests and major concerns."

As for recent moves by the Obama administration to assert a more robust role in the Asia Pacific region, Xi said China welcomes "a positive role" by the United States. But, he added "We hope at the same time, the United States will respect the interests and the concerns of China."

Xi, in his Wednesday speech, reiterated standard Chinese talking points for dealing with the United States: urging the U.S. to continue to support a "One China" policy and oppose any moves toward Taiwanese independence, to honor its commitment to recognize Tibet as part of China, and to work together on dealing with nuclear ambitions by North Korea and Iran.

He was introduced by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who helped President Richard Nixon open the door to China in the 1970s. Kissinger told Xi, "You are here at a crucial moment," suggesting it was a critical a time as that earlier overture that led to formal U.S. recognition of the communist regime in Beijing.

The Chinese leader was heading next to heartland Iowa, where he planned to reconnect with people who hosted him there on a 1985 study tour.

On Tuesday, Xi received a grand welcome, including a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon and a long meeting with Obama, reflecting the importance the U.S. administration sees in its relations with China. Beijing not is a major economic and trading partner, but is also an emerging military rival.

Xi is set to lead China for the coming decade, succeeding President Hu Jintao as Communist Party leader late this year, then becoming president in 2013.

He is widely regarded as more at ease with counterparts than the stiff and staid Hu, but he will not call the shots on policy until he fully takes the reins of power. The diplomatic rhetoric he used in his appearances Tuesday and Wednesday was tried and tested, echoing the tone of the state visit to Washington by Hu a year ago.

Xi, however, did hint at a personal touch with his eclectic use of proverbs. They ranged from traditional Chinese, to the words of the 17th century British thinker Francis Bacon and even the lyrics of a 1980s theme song from a popular TV adaptation of a classic Chinese novel. He used the song, titled "Where Is the Path?," to describe the uncertainties of charting the future of U.S.-China relations.

Both sides emphasized the promise and importance of greater U.S.-China cooperation -- although the soothing diplomatic words were punctuated with frank recognition of the differences that exist between them on human rights, economic disputes and worsening foreign crises, particularly the violence in Syria.

Vice President Joe Biden alluded to a deterioration in human rights in China and U.S. concern over several prominent dissidents. Xi responded as Hu did when he met Obama last year by defending China's rights record but saying it could always do more.

A couple hundred flag-waving Tibetan protesters and other sympathizers of the exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, kept up noisy anti-China demonstrations throughout the day near the White House, but they did not derail the ceremonials.

Inside the Oval Office, Obama assured Xi, "It is absolutely vital that we have a strong relationship with China." The visiting leader smiled and looked at ease in his first formal meeting with the U.S. president.

On the policy front, Biden announced some progress on areas of U.S. economic concern.

He said China informed the U.S. it would move forward with tax reforms this year that would increase imports and promote domestic consumption, a step away from its export-driven growth model, which the U.S. says contributes to America's burgeoning trade deficit. Biden also described an opening for foreign companies to sell auto insurance in China as an important step in overhauling the finance sector.

But Biden repeated U.S. concern over subsidies for Chinese state-owned companies and the forced transfer of technology as a condition for U.S. companies doing business in China. He also described the Chinese currency as still "substantially undervalued" against the dollar, which the U.S. contends hurts its exporters.

Xi urged the U.S. to lift restrictions on high-tech exports to China and create a level playing field for Chinese companies to invest in the United States.