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August 16, 2011

US Vice President on Confidence-Building Trip to China

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden is in China for a visit aimed at boosting relations between the two countries and reassuring Beijing that its large investments in the United States are safe. 

The topic at the top of the agenda when Vice President Biden meets with Chinese officials will be the state of the American economy.

Sun Zhe, director of Tsinghua University’s Center for U.S.-China Relations, says the issue has recently only grown in importance.

Sun says China is concerned about the developments of the past two months and wants reassurances from the United States that its investments there are safe.

China has more than $1 trillion of U.S. debt, making it the Washington's largest foreign creditor.

The issue was addressed earlier this week by the new U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, who pointed out that, despite recent economic troubles in the United States, investors still have been buying U.S. treasuries (securities).

"It is a clear indication that investment in the United States is safe and secure, and the economy, while having its challenges, is still strong," said Sun.

A commentary Wednesday in China’s top paper, the People’s Daily, underscores Beijing’s concerns about the American economy and calls for more reassurances that its U.S. debt holdings remain safe.

But at the same time, the commentary also warned that mishandling ties could lead to what it called a “roller-coaster ride” that would have negative global effects.

Sun says China sees the Biden visit as “very important” and an indication of more regular Sino-American high level exchanges.

At the same time, Sun calls on the U.S. side to be more considerate of China’s desire to facilitate future progress in relations.

One issue Sun points to is China’s requests for the United States to decrease its presence in the South China Sea.  Other contentious issues include Beijing’s anger about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, an island it regards as part of Chinese territory.  And, China has condemned the Dalai Lama’s White House meeting with President Barack Obama last month.  Beijing has accused the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader of seeking independence for Tibet.

Meanwhile, other issues that are expected to be on the agenda include China’s currency exchange rate, cooperation in South Asia, North Korea and Iran.

China on Wednesday again denied claims that Pakistan gave it access to an advanced U.S. helicopter that crashed during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the man who is expected to be his country’s next president, hosts an official welcome ceremony for Biden Thursday.  The U.S. leader is also to meet China’s top three leaders - President Hu Jintao, legislative head Wu Bangguo and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Biden also travels to the southwestern city, Chengdu, to deliver a speech on Sino-American relations and tour areas that were devastated in a major 2008 earthquake.

The American leader later visits Mongolia and Japan, before returning to Washington.