China's Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday strongly defended his country's role on the world stage, in a seeming response to increasing criticism from the West that China was shirking its responsibilities on a range of global issues, from climate to currency.

He also refuted suggestions that China had obstructed a deal at last December's climate talks in Copenhagen, instead blaming Western leaders for excluding China from a crucial meeting at the talks. The Chinese delegation had earlier been accused of “arrogance” by Western diplomats after the premier sent the then vice-foreign minister, He Yafei, as his representative at two separate meetings at which other heads of state, including U.S. President Barack Obama, were present. The Chinese Premier explained his absence by saying he was not notified of a vital December 17 meeting by Western officials.

Indian officials too were reportedly kept out of the meeting. Mr. Wen, however, also chose to not attend meetings the following day, though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Obama did so.

“Why was China not notified about this meeting? So far no one has given us any explanation about this, and it still is a mystery to me,” he said. He described criticism of China's role in Copenhagen as “baffling”, but said his “conscience stays untainted in spite of rumours and slanders from the outside.”

Mr. Wen was speaking in an interaction with local and foreign journalists here, customarily held on the closing day of the annual convening of the National People's Congress, the country's legislature.

Mr. Wen used the occasion to respond to claims from Western countries that Beijing had become more “arrogant” and assertive on the world stage. “Some say China has got more arrogant and tough, and some put forward the theory of China's so-called triumphalism. You have given me an opportunity to explain how China sees itself,” he told reporters.

He said the country's “path of peaceful development” was not a threat to other nations. China, which was still “at a primary stage of development”, would not seek “hegemony” even when it becomes developed. China, he said, sought a peaceful external environment so it could continue its development, Mr. Wen said the U.S. had to bear “responsibility for the serious disruption in U.S.-China ties”, for violating China's sovereignty by selling arms to Taiwan and hosting the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan religious leader.

Currency

The Chinese Premier also rejected growing calls, mostly from the U.S., for China to appreciate its Yuan currency, also known as the Renminbi. The U.S. accuses China of keeping its currency undervalued to support exporters here. The Yuan has been kept pegged at around 6.83 to the dollar since mid-2008.

“I don't think the Renminbi is undervalued,” he said. “We oppose all countries engaging in mutual finger-pointing or taking strong measures to force other nations to appreciate their currencies.”

He reiterated the position voiced earlier this week by the Governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, who said the value of the Yuan would be kept “basically stable.”

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