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US, Chinese Officials Begin Trade Talks

U.S. and Chinese officials have opened high-level trade talks on the outskirts of Beijing, with the value of China's currency dominating discussions. As Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong, the talks come against a background of growing protectionist threats from both sides.

During opening remarks at the China-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue in Xianghe, China's Vice-Premier, Wu Yi, bluntly told U.S. officials to look inward for the source of its economic problems, rather than lecture China.

Wu said that to resort to trade protectionism, and essentially blame another country for the structural problems of its country, is the wrong approach, and would only harm the interests of the United States.

This year alone, dozens of China-related trade bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress, most of which propose ways to curb what Washington views as unfair trade practices.

The United States came to the two days of talks with a long list of complaints about China's economic and trade practices, with the value of the Chinese currency among its chief concerns.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson reiterated Washington's demand that China adopt a more flexible exchange rate. He said this would not only benefit the U.S. but help Beijing fend off its inflation concerns. He offered a softer tone, expressing optimism that the two sides can find common ground on difficult issues.

"We have built stronger relationships and established new constructive channels of communication," said Paulson. "Our focused engagement has produced agreements we may not otherwise have reached, and I am confident that we can accomplish more."

U.S. officials have repeatedly argued that China is employing unfair trade practices by keeping its currency artificially weak. This gives Chinese exporters an unfair advantage when selling goods in the United States, and is a big factor behind the massive U.S. trade deficit with China.

Tensions between the two countries have also been high as a spate of recalls has taken Chinese-made toys and other products off U.S. shop shelves. Toy maker Mattel recalled over 21 million items following concerns that the paint on products contained unsafe levels of lead.

In a separate forum in Beijing on Tuesday, lower ranking U.S. and Chinese trade officials signed agreements on boosting product and drug safety standards. They agreed to boost tourism to the United States and give American companies more access to the Chinese market.

The China-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue is to end Thursday, and is part of ongoing exchanges between the two powerful economies.