Trying to smooth over recently rocky relations before a visit to Washington, Chinese President Hu Jintao told American officials on Wednesday that he wants to see healthy and stable ties between the two countries.
The meeting between Mr. Hu and a White House economic policy official and deputy national security adviser was unusual because the Chinese president rarely meets with visitors ranked lower in diplomatic protocol. It underscored Mr. Hu’s desire to move ahead in relations after months of discord over trade imbalances, Chinese currency policies and U.S. arms sales and military manoeuvres.
“China looks positively on the fresh progress made in China—U.S. relations, and we are willing to work together with the United States in promoting the advance of healthy and stable China—U.S. relations,” Mr. Hu told director of the U.S. National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers, and Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon.
Addressing the security and economic spats that have dragged down relations was at the heart of Summers’ and Donilon’s three days of meetings in Beijing. With an anaemic economy and his Democratic Party under pressure in upcoming congressional elections, President Barack Obama is hoping for concessions from Beijing on exchange rate policies that critics say keep the Chinese currency too low, thereby subsidizing Chinese exports and contributing to high U.S. unemployment.
Mr. Hu, in the meantime, is trying to strengthen his political hand ahead of a delicate Communist Party leadership transition and maintain the popularity of his government with people grown used to high rates of economic growth in part buoyed by trade with the United States.
The Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed Chinese diplomats, that the governments had agreed to resume military talks that Beijing suspended earlier this year in pique at U.S. weapons sales to Chinese rival Taiwan.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Mr. Donilon and Mr. Summers had “productive, detailed, and wide—ranging discussions with Chinese officials” and that the visit, which concluded on Wednesday, “advanced the goal of strengthening the U.S.—China relationship.”
Mr. Hammer said in a statement that the advisers discussed North Korea and Iran, both of which have been sanctioned by the international community for their nuclear programmes.
As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China and the U.S. have frequently locked horns over how to persuade Iran and North Korea to give up those programmes, with Washington tending to favour sanctions and Beijing advocating dialogue and diplomatic means.
Other economic and security issues also were raised, Mr. Hammer said, but gave no specifics.
U.S. officials have said that Mr. Hu is likely to visit Washington in January, though dates are still being discussed. A White House visit, earlier offered by Mr. Obama and reiterated by Mr. Donilon this week, would be a boost for Mr. Hu in the highly symbolic, ceremony—centric world of Chinese politics.
In his meeting with the U.S. officials, Mr. Hu noted Mr. Obama’s trip to Beijing last November and said “relations have on the whole maintained healthy development thanks to the efforts of both sides.”
Beyond the positive tone, it was unclear whether substantive compromises were reached during the trip.
On Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected U.S. pressure on China’s currency policies, saying Beijing will set the pace of any reforms.
“Exchange rate reform can’t be pressed ahead under external pressure,” said Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Still, senior Chinese officials talked of ending the public carping that has contributed to the souring atmosphere in recent months.
“Quiet and in—depth dialogue is better than loud haranguing,” said State Councilor Dai Bingguo told Mr. Summers and Mr. Donilon on Tuesday.