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U.S., China to work for stronger ties : Obama and Hu pledge cooperation on nuclear and climate issues. But signs of tension are evident.

November 17, 2009|Peter Nicholas

BEIJING — President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, agreed to build a stronger relationship and work jointly to combat the spread of nuclear weapons, though differences over trade policies and human rights surfaced during a private summit meeting.

Speaking to the media after their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, Obama said the U.S. welcomed China's rise as a world power, and President Hu said the two nations would step up visits, correspondence and phone calls "essential" to a closer partnership.

On an issue of major importance to the U.S., Obama said China is cooperating in efforts to get North Korea to forswear nuclear weapons. Both leaders also said they were committed to curbing global warming.

Yet tensions between the two countries were evident. Obama said he raised the issue of human rights, reiterating that America holds "bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess fundamental human rights."

Such rights should be "available to all peoples, to all ethnic and religious minorities," he said. As Obama spoke, Hu, standing near him on a stage, stared straight ahead, impassively.

Obama added that the two nations would "continue to move this discussion forward in a human rights dialogue that is scheduled for early next year."

Hu, in turn, said that for economic recovery to take hold, nations must avoid a protectionist stance.

That seemed to be a reference to America's imposition of a tariff on Chinese tires.

Hu said he "stressed" to Obama that "under the current circumstances our two countries need to oppose protectionism in all of its manifestations."

At their bilateral meeting here, Obama and Hu sat across from each other at a large table. The American delegation included Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lawrence H. Summers, the president's chief economic advisor.

Hu spoke first through an interpreter: "I'm very happy to have talks with you, Mr. President. This is your first visit. . . . Please allow me to extend to you a warm welcome to China. Mr. President, you have worked actively to promote this relationship. I very much appreciate your statements."

It is not clear the two countries agree on the best way to combat the global downturn. Obama has been calling for "balanced growth," meaning he wants China to lessen its reliance on exports and to increase consumption.

That, in turn, would create conditions for the U.S. to sell more goods to China, easing the American recession.

An Obama administration official, speaking of the meeting between the two leaders, said the discussions involved "pursuing a strategy for more balanced growth that will lead to more jobs in the U.S. and higher living standards in Asia."

Upbeat as that sounds, the Chinese have made clear the interests of the two countries may not be aligned.

A spokesman for China's Ministry of Commerce on Monday accused the U.S. of engaging in trade protectionism.

"The U.S. continues to allow the dollar to devalue in an effort to boost its competitiveness in exports," said ministry spokesman Yao Jian in a news briefing.

"As the world is struggling against the financial crisis, if you only ask other countries to raise the value of their currency, but continue to devalue the dollar, it is not only bad for the global economic recovery, but also unfair."

U.S. officials have pressed China to appreciate its currency, the yuan, so that China is in a better position to buy American products.

China is reluctant to do so until its own exports fully rebound. Though improving, Chinese exports were down 13.8% in October from a year earlier.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Times staff writers David Pierson and Barbara Demick in Beijing contributed to this report.

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