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Economic Issues Top China’s Meeting Agenda with US Officials

China says it will discuss disagreements over currency reform in high level meetings with U.S. officials in Washington next week. Chinese officials say other issues of concern include access for Chinese companies to the U.S. market and the U.S. debt debate.

One of the most contentious issues between China and the United States is reforming the exchange rate of the Chinese currency, the yuan.

Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters Friday there is at least no discord on the basics.

Zhu says the two countries agree on the direction of reform, but have differences on specific issues. He did not give details, but said these differences will be addressed so that both sides can, in his words, deepen understanding.

For years, many American critics have said the yuan is intentionally undervalued in order to make Chinese exports cheaper and give China an unfair trade advantage. The main disagreement has been the pace of exchange rate reform, which China maintains is a sovereign decision.

Another issue is expected to be market access - in both directions. In answer to recent criticism by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke that American companies do not have enough access to the Chinese market, Zhu countered by saying Chinese companies have similar complaints about trying to do business in the United States.

Zhu urged the U.S. government to provide a favorable legal and institutional environment for Chinese companies that want to invest in the United States, and he especially urged Washington not to discriminate against Chinese state-owned enterprises.

Zhu said China also is paying close attention to the debate in the United States over fiscal issues and the U.S. debt. He noted that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner briefed Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan about it in a timely manner.

He said he thinks the timely sharing of information is crucial for helping establish mutual trust. He added that he hopes the U.S. side will adopt what he described as "effective fiscal consolidation measures" based on President Obama’s proposal.

One non-economic issue expected to be on the agenda includes human rights, which U.S. officials have said they will rise with their Chinese counterparts.

Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai was asked whether China thinks the United States focuses too much on human rights.

He avoided passing judgment, but he urged the U.S. government to pay more attention to China’s human rights developments rather than to be, in his words, "preoccupied with the individual cases" of people who have violated Chinese law.

These comments come amid China’s biggest security crackdown in years, which apparently is aimed at preventing any unrest inspired by the Jasmine Revolutions in the Middle East.

The wide-ranging Sino-American talks begin next Monday in Washington. For the first time, they will include a strategic security dialogue that brings together diplomatic and military officials from both countries.