President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Asian-Pacific… (Charles Dharapak, Associated…)
HONOLULU — President Obama told his Chinese counterpart in a private meeting Saturday that the American public and business community are growing increasingly "frustrated'' with China's economic policies, stepping up his bid to force changes that might in turn boost job growth in the U.S.
With complaints about China's currency policy spilling into the Republican presidential contest and onto the floor of the Senate, Obama told Chinese President Hu Jintao that his government is not moving quickly enough to remedy the problem, U.S. officials said.
Obama "made it very clear that the American people and American business community were growing increasingly impatient and frustrated with the state of change," said Michael Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs.
Obama made the point that although American business traditionally has been supportive of U.S.-China economic ties, "over the last couple of decades there has been more and more concern and frustration ... about their treatment in China and their desire for China to take further action," Froman said.
Obama met with Hu and a number of other world leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Earlier Saturday, Obama had said that he would take a hard stance in his talk with Hu.
Meeting with business leaders, he said that China is keeping its currency undervalued in a way that "disadvantages American businesses" and "disadvantages American workers."
"I am sympathetic to the fact that there are a lot of people in China who are still impoverished and there's a rapid pace of urbanization that's taking place there that Chinese leaders have to work through," Obama said in a question-and-answer session with Boeing Chief Executive James McNerney. "But the bottom line is, is that the United States can't be expected to stand by if there's not the kind reciprocity in our trade relations and our economic relationships that we need. This is an issue that I've brought up with President Hu in the past. We will continue to bring it up."
In their meeting, Obama also pressed China to crack down on intellectual piracy and to encourage domestic consumption so that the Chinese market is ripe for U.S. exports, administration officials said.
At the beginning of the meeting, the two leaders struck a cordial tone in brief remarks to reporters.
"Although there are areas where we continue to have differences, I am confident that the U.S.-China relationship will continue to grow in a constructive way based on mutual respect and mutual interests," Obama said.
As has been the case in other joint appearances, Hu stared straight ahead when Obama spoke. When it was Hu's turn, Obama looked directly at him the entire time.
"The Asia-Pacific region is the most dynamic region in today's world, with the biggest development potential," Hu said. "This region should become a region of active cooperation between China and the United States."
The leaders of the world's two largest economies met on the first full day of Obama's nine-day trip to Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia.
In summit meetings and face-to-face talks with Asian-Pacific leaders, Obama will try to drive home a message that the U.S. is serious about reengaging in the region after years focused on war and terrorism in the Middle East and South Asia.
Part of Obama's goal is to reassure nervous allies that the U.S. is making a military and economic commitment that will prove a counterweight to China's rising global power.
"The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay," the president said at the business forum.
In the morning, the U.S. and eight other countries announced progress toward creating a trade partnership that aims to set new standards for environmental protections, anti-piracy measures and labor rights.
The members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, said such an agreement would also help bind together the economies of each country.
A "central objective" of the TPP "is simply trying to counter China's trade-related initiatives," said Dieter Ernst, senior fellow at the East-West Center, a research and education organization.
Obama faces growing pressure to force a revaluation of the Chinese currency. Just last month, the Senate approved a bill that would penalize the Chinese and other countries that keep the value of their currencies artificially low.
Lawmakers contend that Chinese exports enjoy an unfair trade advantage because China's currency, the yuan, is undervalued.
But the White House has not embraced the measure, which could prompt retaliatory action by the Chinese.
In his remarks to the business leaders, Obama made the case that importing more goods and opening its markets to more foreign business is in China's interests, as well as everyone else's.