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Day 2: U.S. debt 'nothing to worry about,' Biden tells Chinese

August 19, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli
(Michael A. Memoli / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Beijing — Vice President Joe Biden worked Friday to assure the nation's biggest foreign creditor that its investments were sound, saying U.S. treasuries remained a safe haven in the shaky global economy.

The latest round of confidence-building came on the vice president’s second full day in the Chinese capital and in response to a sterner public talking-to than he had faced in previous meetings. 

In the days following the end of the U.S. debt-ceiling fight and the subsequent credit rating downgrade from Standard & Poor's, China’s state-run media included lectures to the United States about getting its house in order.

Photos: Vice President Biden in China

China’s leaders have been more diplomatic since Biden's arrival here late Wednesday. Vice President Xi Jingping used a morning session with U.S. and Chinese business leaders to offer a strong vote of confidence for the American economy, which he called "highly resilient."

But Premier Wen Jiabao took a somewhat stronger tone. After welcoming Biden to the scenic Purple Light Pavilion at the Zhongnanhai compound that is home to the Communist Party leadership, Jiabao referred to the "difficulties" in the U.S. economy.

Wen said it was "particularly important" that Biden had sent the message on his visit so far that the United States would keep "its obligations with regard to its government debt."

"I'm sure that will give a boost to the investors' confidence in the U.S. economy," Wen said.

Biden responded by saying the United States will "take care of" its debt "very closely."

"We appreciate your investment in U.S. treasuries.  And very sincerely, I want to make clear that you have nothing to worry about in terms of their viability," he said.

Just hours earlier, Biden made a similar affirmation of America’s economic stability. At the morning session with Xi, the U.S. vice president said he had “absolute, unequivocal confidence in the strength and vitality and the growth of the American economy.”

“No one’s ever made money betting against America,” he said.

He used the forum with more than a dozen American and Chinese business leaders to tease the expected announcement of trade deals valued at nearly $1 billion in increased exports and investment in the United States.

Also Friday, Biden paid a courtesy call to China’s president, Hu Jintao. Biden passed on the regards of President Obama, who looked forward to the two leaders’ next meeting in November at the APEC summit in Hawaii.

Day 2: Color

- Wen seemed otherwise eager to strike an accord with Biden during their visit Friday. He noted at the outset of their meeting that both shared a common birth year, and had been in public office for roughly the same amount of time.

He also said he hoped to take a stroll with Biden on the grounds of Zhongnanhai, a serene spot not open to the public. Biden said he was eager to do so, but worried about his scheduled meeting with Hu in the next hour. Perhaps, he suggested, Wen could write him a tardy slip.

"I'm very accustomed to accommodating presidents,” he said.

- At both of Biden’s afternoon bilateral meetings, Chinese officials again tried to push reporters from the room while the vice president was speaking – something that sparked a shoving match one day earlier. The Chinese officials explained before the meeting with Hu that reporters would be allowed to listen in for no more than five minutes – even including the consecutive English to Chinese and Chinese to English translations.

The practice was again a matter of dispute with members of the vice president’s staff who had negotiated different terms before Biden’s arrival, and of course with the media eager to hear the full exchanges.

- A briefing with China’s deputy foreign minister Friday evening was intended to provide for Western journalists a readout from the host nation’s perspective of Biden’s visit. But the final question that was taken was about another visiting American delegation – the Georgetown University basketball team. The day before, it was involved in a nasty brawl with the Bayi Rockets during what was billed as a “friendship match.”

"The sun has come out again, as it were," Cui Tiankai told reporters, explaining that the teams had resolved their differences and were now on good terms.

Biden had watched a previous game between Georgetown and a team from the Shanxi province.

Day 3 Schedule

Biden meets with employees at the U.S. embassy in China on Saturday morning before departing Beijing en route to Chengdu in Sichuan province, where Xi will again join him for further talks, and a visit to a local school rebuilt after it was damaged in a 2008 earthquake.

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