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Iran and trade top agenda of US-China talks

Publication Date : 04-05-2012

 

The United States and China made no direct mention of blind activist Chen Guangcheng as they opened high-level talks yesterday, sticking to the agenda of strategic and economic issues ranging from currency to Iran's nuclear programme.

In her opening speech, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shortened a section of her prepared text that addressed human rights and did not allude to Chen, who is now seeking US political asylum for himself and his family.

But Mrs Clinton stressed that the US continued "to look to China to meet its international obligations to protect universal human rights and fundamental freedoms".

President Hu Jintao, in his remarks at the two-day talks, called for mutual respect even as both sides work through their differences. While "it is impossible for China and the US to agree on everything", they can 'discuss their differences in the right way", he said.

In a sign that the controversy over US support for Chen, which Beijing sees as interference in its affairs and for which it demands an apology, has not derailed the agenda, both sides announced that China's Defence Minister Liang Guanglie will make a week-long visit to the US.

It was a signal that military ties, once strained over issues such as US arms sales to Taiwan, were back on track.

General Liang will meet Defence Secretary Leon Panetta next Monday and travel to US military bases. Panetta will visit Beijing "in the not too distant future", a US Defence Department spokesman said.

Analysts said Mrs Clinton's call for China to help apply pressure on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear capability further reflected both sides' awareness that they need each other's support to maintain international stability.

"While there are not likely to be any concrete results from the talks on strategic issues such as North Korea, Iran and tensions in Syria, it helps that both sides are open to exchanging views," said Tsinghua University professor Zhao Kejin.

Indeed, top leadership transitions in both China and the US later this year will limit the ability of both sides to make major strategic or economic policy moves, East Asia Institute research fellow Chen Gang noted ahead of the talks.

Nonetheless, the two countries still pushed for concessions from each other on trade and currency yesterday.

Vice-Premier Wang Qishan sought US assurances to expand financial market access and "take concrete steps to relax control on high-tech exports to China".

This longstanding Chinese concern was also highlighted by Commerce Minister Chen Deming, who told a press briefing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had pledged to take action "before long" on this matter.

He added that China's trade imbalance with the US is due to American export controls on more than 2,400 items, and not because of Beijing's controls over the yuan exchange rate.

US officials have long claimed that Beijing keeps the yuan undervalued to support exports, allowing China to accumulate a massive trade surplus with the US.

Geithner yesterday reiterated his call for Beijing to push through faster exchange rate and economic reforms vital to global growth. He said while the yuan has risen by about 13 per cent against the greenback over the past two years, Beijing can still do more to let it rise faster.

 

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