U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged China to play by the "same rules" in the global economy but voiced hope for cooperation in a key introductory meeting with leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping.
Welcoming the Chinese vice president to the Oval Office, Obama raised trade and human rights disputes between the world's two largest economies and made clear that the United States intended to remain a key power in Asia.
But Obama stressed that the United States welcomed the rise of a "prosperous" China. He praised China's "extraordinary development over the last two decades" but said that such power came with "increased responsibilities."
"We want to work with China to make sure that everybody is working by the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system," Obama said alongside a relaxed-looking Xi, as senior aides and translators gathered near them.
"That includes ensuring that there is a balanced trading flow not only between the United States and China but around the world," Obama said.
The U.S. leader also brought up concerns about human rights, saying Washington would "continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of realizing the aspirations and rights of all people."
Obama said the United States sought to manage tensions with China in a "constructive way" and wanted to tackle key issues like Iran, the North Korean nuclear challenge and global economic crises together.
The Obama administration has spent months planning the visit by Xi, who is expected to take over next year and could serve as president for a full decade in which many experts believe that China will grow at breakneck speed.
The Pentagon will welcome Xi with a rare honor ceremony. Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke extensively with Xi on a visit to China in August, has invited Xi to lunch and dinner and will join him later this week in Los Angeles where they are expected to watch the Lakers basketball team.
But China is already in the firing line ahead of U.S. elections in November, particularly on economic issues. U.S. lawmakers accuse Beijing of keeping its currency unfairly low to fuel inexpensive exports that have turned China into a manufacturing superpower.
Xi, meeting with former U.S. policymakers including Henry Kissinger after his arrival on Monday, urged Washington to treat China in an "objective and rational way" and not make relations an election-year issue.
"I believe no one of insight from the U.S. side would like to see that the election factors would have a regrettable impact on the development of ties between the two countries," Xi said, as quoted in English by China's state-run Xinhua news agency.
China has let its yuan appreciate since mid-2010 in response to concerns over inflation. But the United States wants China to do more and to take action in other areas including protection of U.S. intellectual property.
Protesters have vowed to trail Xi throughout his visit. As he held talks at the White House, dozens of impassioned pro-Tibet activists outside waved flags and chanted "China lies, Tibetans die" and "Xi, Tibet will be free!"
China has stepped up detentions of government critics since last month and has recently imposed what residents say is virtual martial law in Tibetan areas after a wave of self-immolation protests against Beijing's rule.
Yu Jie, author of a critical book on Premier Wen Jiabao and who fled to the United States last month after what he said was torture by Chinese police, pressed for Obama to take a firmer approach on human rights.
"President Obama might perceive the Chinese Communist Party as a tiger that does not bite and, hence, is looking forward to Vice President Xi Jinping's visit," Yu wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.
But he warned: "The Chinese Communist Party remains a tiger that will bite." He pointed to China's treatment of him and other critics and its veto with Russia of a U.N. resolution that would have pressed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to curb violence.
Separately, a number of prominent former U.S. senators and administration officials wrote an open letter to Xi urging him to announce that China will cut back oil imports from Iran, saying that his cooperation could be crucial in providing a peaceful outcome to a row over Tehran's nuclear program.
Xi, 58, has risen steadily through the ranks of China's Communist Party but has revealed little about his core beliefs. His father was a noted revolutionary, Xi Zhongxun, who was harshly purged after a fallout with Mao Zedong.
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