2012/02/16

Xi sees new 'starting point' for US-China ties

WASHINGTON, February 16, 2012 (AFP) - Chinese heir apparent Xi Jinping heralded "a new historical starting point" for ties with the United States Wednesday, wooing US business leaders with a glimpse of a more cooperative future.

Speaking during a lavish ballroom luncheon with the upper crust of corporate America, Vice President Xi described deeper Sino-American ties as an "unstoppable river that keeps surging ahead."

Glossing over the tumultuous twists and turns in 30 years of Cold War-dominated relations, Xi said interests had become ever-more intertwined. "It is a course that cannot be stopped or reversed," he said.

Xi welcomed Washington's interest in the Asia Pacific region, and said cooperation was needed on a range of challenges from North Korea to Iran, so long as China's interests are also respected.

Xi is on his maiden visit to the United States as a top official, a trip many hope will help close a chapter in relations characterized by mistrust and mudslinging, particularly in the commercial sphere.

As the tectonic plates of global trade have shifted in recent decades, China and the United States -- the world's two largest economies -- have frequently collided, jutted and bumped against each other, sometimes to damaging effect for both.

With Xi widely tipped to lead China from 2013 and Obama in a November re-election battle, the visit is being seen as a dress rehearsal for the next generation of US-China relations.

During the trip, Xi has worked US constituencies key to the bilateral ties: official Washington, corporate leaders and, in Iowa, a return to small-town America which he visited more than two decades ago.

His stops in Washington have included the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, Congress and the US-China Business Council.

Throughout his trip Xi has received the trappings of a state visit -- even if he is only head of state in waiting.

In a broad-ranging speech that was short on specifics Wednesday, Xi told business leaders that increased understanding, mutual respect for core interests, trade and cooperation in international affairs should form the basis for relations.

"Over the past 33 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, the friendship between our two peoples has deepened, mutually beneficial cooperation has expanded and our interests have become increasingly interconnected," he said.

At the luncheon Xi was introduced by former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger whose secret trip to China in 1971 paved the way for the normalization of relations between Washington and Beijing.

The pair were flanked by a cadre of Chinese Communist Party officials, as well as executives from Coca Cola, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Procter & Gamble and Estee Lauder.

Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent expressed the cautious optimism felt in the US business community about future ties with China.

He described Xi's visit as "another important milestone toward building an enduring and constructive relationship between our two nations."

The Chinese vice president largely steered clear of specific policy pronouncements, but stressed the mutual benefits of trade, pointing out that 47 of 50 US states had seen their exports with China grow in the last decade.

Despite deepening ties, many Americans and their lawmakers angrily accuse Beijing of not playing by the rules.

They accuse China of keeping the value of its currency unfairly low to fuel inexpensive exports, which have catalyzed China's headlong dash toward becoming an economic superpower.

From June 2010, Beijing has allowed the yuan to rise 8.5 percent against the dollar, in part because of domestic inflation pressures -- making the yuan an increasingly dubious scapegoat for lopsided trade.

In the last decade, trade between the two countries has increased over 275 percent and is now worth half a trillion dollars a year.

But Chinese exports still make up 80 percent of bilateral trade, despite China joining the World Trade Organization a decade ago, leading to accusations of protectionism from US industry.

Xi, repeating a long standing gripe, said the US would need to reform its own trade restrictions on exports to China in order to right that imbalance.

"It is very important for addressing the China-US trade imbalance that the United States adjusts its economic policies and structure, including removing various restrictions on exports to China, in particular easing control on civilian high-tech exports to China as soon as possible," he said.

China has often blamed the US deficit on Washington's own rules on exporting sensitive equipment that could be adapted for military or intelligence use.