Obama Stresses Relationship With China
Updated 12:10 p.m.
By Glenn Kessler
President Obama opened a high-level U.S.-China meeting today by declaring that the two countries share a joint responsibility for the 21st century and should strive to cooperate on key issues such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, transnational threats and the world economy.
"The pursuit of power among nations must no longer be seen as a zero-sum game," he said at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan building co-chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "Progress -- including security -- must be shared."
China has sent about 200 top officials to Washington for the two days of talks, led by State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice Premier Wang Qishan. Many members of Obama's Cabinet will also join in the talks, which are an elevated version of a dialogue first started during the Bush administration. Obama laid out an ambitious agenda, calling for a "future when our nations are partners out of necessity, but also out of opportunity."
Dai, speaking at the opening of the meeting, noted that the two countries are separated by huge differences in culture, ideology and social systems but that the economic crisis demonstrated "we are actually all in the same big boat that has been hit by fierce wind and huge waves."
As China's economy has boomed, so has its international clout, though Obama acknowledged that world financial institutions must be overhauled to better reflect China's new role in the world economy. With the revenue generated by huge trade surpluses with the United States -- and policies that keep its currency artificially low -- Beijing is the largest single investor in U.S. Treasury bonds. That $1.5 trillion stake means that China is critical to Obama's efforts to boost the U.S. economy through deficit spending, though Chinese officials have expressed worry that the value of their holdings will fall if the U.S. deficit is not brought under control.
Geithner, addressing the meeting, stressed the administration is "committed to taking the necessary measures to bring our fiscal deficits down to a more sustainable level once recovery is firmly established." He also praised Chinese leaders for their efforts to boost domestic consumption, which he said "will be a huge contribution to our global challenge in bringing about a more rapid but more balanced and sustainable global recovery."
Neither Obama nor Geithner publicly touched on the sensitive issue of China's firm grip on the value of the Yuan. But Obama notably devoted a few paragraphs of his remarks to gently prodding China's human rights record. "We also strongly believe that the religious and culture of all peoples must be respected and protected, and that all people should be free to speak their minds," he said.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, in a written message, said that China and the United States "shoulder important responsibilities on a host of major issues concerning peace and development." He said the delegations should "conduct consultations in an equal and candid manner" in order to "seek win-win progress."
No major breakthroughs are expected at this week's meetings, but Obama said he hoped to make his first visit to China soon to continue the dialogue.
A complete transcript of Obama's remarks can be read here.
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