Facing accusations from Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney that he's soft on China, President Obama told Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Tuesday that China needs to play fair in international trade.
"With expanding power and prosperity also comes increased responsibilities," Mr. Obama said in his first meeting with Mr. Xi, a likely future leader of China. "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."
Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. told Mr. Xi that Americans "welcome competition ... but cooperation can only be mutually beneficial if the game is fair."
The Obama administration has complained previously about China's trade-rule violations, as well as intellectual property theft and the deliberate undervaluing of China's currency. Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has said he would take a more aggressive stance against China's trade practices and that Obama administration officials have been "played like a fiddle."
Business leaders say China's trade practices have contributed to a weaker American economy. Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said Mr. Obama's discussions with Mr. Xi will be meaningless unless the U.S. is prepared to back up the talk.
"Unless Xi knows that our government will not stand idly by as China continues to flaunt its obligations on trade and currency, this visit will be nothing more than a glorified photo-op," Mr. Paul said in a statement. "China's mercantilism — and our government's indifference — helped to hollow-out our manufacturing base over the past decade, taking jobs and wealth with it. We will never lay the foundation for the president's 'Built to last' economy unless we insist that China play by the rules, and face severe consequences if it does not."
As officials of both countries met in the Oval Office, hundreds of demonstrators outside the gates of the White House protested Mr. Xi's visit. Some held signs demanding that China leave Tibet, while others protested the government's oppression of the Falun Gong or held signs bearing photographs of political prisoners. There were signs criticizing the Chinese Communist Party, which Mr. Xi will take leadership of this fall.
Mr. Obama also addressed his guest about human rights.
"We will continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of recognizing the aspirations and rights of all people," Mr. Obama said. "And we believe that it is critically important that the United States and China develop a strong working relationship to help to bring stability, order, and security that ultimately provides a better life for both the people of the United States and the people of China."
At a luncheon at the State Department, Mr. Biden told Mr. Xi that the U.S. sees advocacy for human rights as "a fundamental aspect of our foreign policy."
“We have been clear about our concern over the areas in which from our perspective conditions in China have deteriorated and about the plight of several individuals. We appreciate your response," Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Xi acknowledged "a candid exchange of views on human rights" behind closed doors with U.S. officials.
"I stressed that China has made great progress ... of course there is always room for improvement," Mr. Xi said. "The Chinese government will always put people's interest first and take seriously people's aspirations and demands."
Despite the gentle warnings, U.S. and Chinese officials said they hoped the meeting will build on a foundation for expanded trade between the two nations and stronger diplomatic ties.
"We welcome China's peaceful rise," Mr. Obama said. "We believe that a strong and prosperous China is one that can help to bring stability and prosperity to the region and to the world."
Mr. Xi said that he wants to build on the relationship between Mr. Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Mr. Xi said he hopes to "deepen the friendship" between the people of the two countries.
A foreign pool report of Mr. Xi's meeting with Mr. Biden earlier in the day said Mr. Xi spoke to reporters in a "more positive way than Mr. Biden." Mr. Biden said the U.S. has "very important economic and political concerns, that we need to work together."
Also on the leaders' agenda are North Korea, Iran and Syria, in the wake of China’s decision last week to join Russia in vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution targeting Syrian President Bashar Assad over his government's bloody crackdown on opponents.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama expressed "our disappointment that China joined with Russia" to kill the resolution.
"We speak candidly about the concerns we have, whether it's trade or currency or foreign policy," Mr. Carney said.
The formal lunch at the State Department included music provided by a string quartet and the meal prepared by Chinese-American chef Ming Tsai. The menu included sweet potato soup with a crispy duck confit roulade and micro greens; soy marinated Alaskan butterfish with black garlic sauce; eight treasured rice packet with dried fruit and pork sausage; gingered swiss chard; and flourless bittersweet chocolate cake with cardamom ice cream.
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