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Day 4: Biden gently prods China on human rights

August 21, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli | Washington Bureau
  • Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping points out a feature of the Dujiangyan Irrigation Site on a visit to the city with Vice President Joe Biden, in sunglasses left..
Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping points out a feature of the Dujiangyan… (Michael A. Memoli / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Chengdu, China   — The United States and China "have a stake in one another's success," Vice President Joe Biden said here Sunday, calling increased cooperation — and economic competition — between the two superpowers a key to boosting the world economy.

In the keynote speech of his four-day visit, Biden defended the Obama administration's efforts to ramp up engagement with Beijing, and argued that the Chinese have an economic incentive to become more open both with regard to trade and on the delicate issue of human rights.

Biden, speaking at Sichuan University in this southwestern city, said that some in China "believe that greater freedom could threaten economic progress by undermining social stability."

"I do not pretend to have the answer, but I believe history has shown the opposite to be true, that in the long run, greater openness is a source of stability and a sign of strength, that prosperity peaks when governments foster both free enterprise and free exchange of ideas, that liberty unlocks a people's full potential. And in its absence, unrest festers," he said.

Photos: Vice President Biden in China

The U.S. economy has thrived and will continue to do so, Biden said, because of the innovative spirit of the American people and the freedoms afforded to them.

"Openness, free exchange of ideas, free enterprise and liberty are among the reasons why the United States, in my view, is at this moment the wealthiest nation in the history of the world," he said.

"In the 21st century, the true wealth of a nation will be found in the creative minds of its people and their ability to innovate — to develop the technologies that will not only spawn new products, but create and awaken entire new industries. The United States is hardwired for innovation."

Biden's remarks came at the start of a busy final day on wrap up the first leg of his nine-day Asia tour, one built primarily around efforts to lay the groundwork for dealings with the man expected to soon take the reins of leadership in China, Vice President Xi Jingping.

The U.S. vice president held two days of talks with Xi in Beijing before the two leaders were reunited here Sunday, logging extensive one-on-one time during an afternoon of visits in the city of Dujiangyan.

At a local school rebuilt after the devastating 2008 earthquake that killed tens of thousands in the region, the leaders shed their sport coats and ties while meeting with students on a basketball court — Biden took a half-dozen shots before nailing one — and taking questions from an English-language class.

They later shared tea downtown and inspected an irrigation project before returning to Chengdu for an intimate dinner.

Biden brought a message of reassurance in his meetings with leaders such as Xi, and to the people at both school visits Sunday, saying the U.S. remained fiscally sound — "The United States has never defaulted, and never will," he said -- and committed to a long-term partnership with China.

"As great nations and as global actors, the United States and China face many of the same challenges and share many of the same responsibilities," he said at Sichuan University. "The more we can work together, the more our people will benefit and … the more the world will benefit as a consequence of our cooperation."

Day 4: Color

--Biden took two questions from students at Sichuan University, the first on debt and the second on the role of public speaking.

Biden used the latter to discuss his struggles as a child with stuttering, recalling the painstaking efforts he undertook to rid himself of the problem and relating it to the Oscar-winning tale of "The King's Speech."

"But for the royal blood and the money, that could have been me," he said.

--Biden's self-deprecation tour of China continued Sunday in a meeting with regional leaders Sunday morning. Greeting the provincial governor, he joked: "In my country governors are very powerful," unlike, he added senators or vice presidents.

Day 5: Schedule

Biden arrives in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, on Monday for a brief visit meant to bolster the fledgling democracy. He'll meet with Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold and President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, before witnessing a cultural demonstration that is expected to include horse racing, archery and wrestling. He arrives in Tokyo on Monday night.

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