In his first meeting with a foreign official since assuming power, President Xi Jinping met with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Xi pledged to work together with the United States while acknowledging Beijing has what he called "unaviodable" diffferences with Washington. Lew's visit comes at an important time in Sino-U.S. relations as tensions between the two countries have risen over the last year.
The meeting took place at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. It is Lew’s first trip abroad as secretary, and Xi Jinping’s first meeting with a U.S. official since becoming president last week, signalling the importance of the relationship to both countries. Top of the agenda for the meeting was cyber security.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said President Xi conveyed China’s perspective on U.S. accusations of cyber attacks by China.
“President Xi and Secretary Lew also exchanged views concerning the situation on the Korean peninsula and cyber security," Hong said. "President Xi Jinping elaborated the principles and the positions of the Chinese side.”
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A study by a U.S. security firm alleges that hackers in China, possibly linked to the country’s People’s Liberation Army, attacked U.S. organizations over the last few years. China denies the charges and says its institutions are also victims of cyber espionage by foreign hackers.
Both Lew and Xi emphasized the importance of the Sino-American relationship, even as Xi said the two powers have unavoidable differences.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, says cyber security is one of many potentially divisive issues raised in the meetings.
“I think that there is intention on both sides to overcome difficulties and to continue to promote cooperation," Shi said.
Lew was also expected to address piracy and theft of intellectual property rights by Chinese companies, which hurt U.S. businesses. Last year Chinese trade negotiators vowed they would do more to protect the intellectual property of foreign companies.
Lew also said China’s currency exchange rates would be one of his top priorities. Over the last three years China’s exchange rate has climbed almost 16 percent against the U.S. dollar.
“I don’t think there will be any breakthrough, because on the Chinese side, China has already done a lot," Shi said.
Trade ties likely dominated Lew’s conversations with other Chinese officials. Following his meeting with Xi Jinping, Lew met with the chairman of the National Development and Reform Commision.