- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The man in line to be China’s leader for the next decade told business leaders in Washington on Wednesday he was open to a far more expanded relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

“This shows the door is open to trade between the United States and China,” Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said. “It can only open wider and wider.”

Mr. Xi, who is expected to take over from President Hu Jintao as the leader of the Communist Party later this year and transition into the presidency in 2013, visited with the business community on the second day of his trip to Washington before flying off for a nostalgic visit to the Iowa town he visited as a low-level Beijing functionary two decades ago.

In his first major Washington trip since he was tapped to take over the top job in Beijing, Mr. Xi had meetings with President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, congressional leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during his two-day stay.

While bilateral trade has exploded as China’s economy has risen to world prominence, a number of issues remain, including China’s large trade surplus, its respect for intellectual-property rights, U.S. openness to Chinese direct investment and American charges that Beijing is manipulating its currency for competitive gain.

Mr. Xi did not mention the currency issue and offered no major policy concessions in public, but asserted that China “has been taking measures to increase imports” of American-made goods.

But, he added, it was equally “important that the United States adjusts its economic policies and structure on removing various restrictions” on exports of high-tech goods, as the two countries work to “balance trade.”

U.S. China-watchers say they see promise in Mr. Xi’s elevation to the top job.

Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty III, president of McLarty Associates and one-time chief of staff to President Clinton, called Mr. Xi the “right person at the right time for Chinese leadership” at an event earlier in the day at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“No bilateral trade relationship today is as important as the one between the U.S. and China,” said Muhtar Kent, chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council, which hosted the luncheon where Mr. Xi spoke. “It is an important step toward strengthening the ties between our two nations.”

Commerce Secretary John E. Bryson called Mr. Xi a “down-to-earth” person. “These qualities resonate with all of us here in America,” he said.

Improving trade relations with the U.S. was at the top of Mr. Xi’s to-do list.

“Despite some twists and turns, U.S.-China relations have continued moving forward,” he said. “It is on a course that cannot be stopped or reversed.”

While some see as an economic and military rival, U.S. business leaders suggested the U.S. should be encouraging growth and economic reform for China.

“In economic terms, what the U.S. needs to do, instead of trying to contain China, is empower China,” said Arvind Subramanian, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

In his remarks, Mr. Xi pointed out that 47 U.S. states have seen exports to China grow in recent years. Nationally, exports to China have increased 50 percent over the past two years, according to Mr. Bryson, and they exceeded $100 billion for the first time in 2011.

“American business leaders are counting on us,” Mr. Bryson said, “and Chinese business leaders are counting on us.”

“To be sure, we have our differences,” Mr. Bryson shared, “but I think we can find common ground.”

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