At the start of two days of high-level talks between the United States and China, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both voiced concern to Chinese authorities about China's human rights record and an ongoing crackdown in the country. Human rights is just one of a broad range of issues U.S. and Chinese officials will discuss at this year's round of Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, as they try to work through areas where their interests diverge and areas of cooperation for the world's two largest economies.
In opening remarks at the talks, both U.S. and Chinese officials stressed the importance of building cooperation and weathering disagreements when they arise.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the annual talks give the U.S. and China an opportunity to discuss their differences like any two friends would - honestly and directly.
"We have made very clear, publicly and privately, our concern about human rights. We worry about the impact on our domestic politics and on the politics and the stability in China and the region," Clinton said.
Vice President Joe Biden says that while U.S. statements about human rights may, as he put it, "rankle" some in China, it is an issue that still needs to be discussed.
"We've noted our concerns about the recent crackdown in China, including attacks, arrests and the disappearance of journalists, lawyers, bloggers and artists," Biden said. "And again, no relationship that is real can be based on false foundation. Where we disagree, its important to state it."
In recent months, China has launched its largest clampdown on dissent in years. The crackdown comes as a wave of protests in the Middle East led to the toppling of governments in Tunisia and Egypt and unrest in several other countries.
In his remarks Monday, China's State Councilor Dai Bingguo said that China was making progress on human rights and urged Americans to visit China to understand it better.
Dai says that by visiting China, Americans can experience first-hand the enormous progress China has made in various fields, including human rights, and get to know what he called the "real China."
At this year's meeting, the third such dialogue between the United States and China since President Obama came to office, the two countries are trying to tackle disagreements over market access, and make more progress on efforts to rebalance the global economy and stabilze economic growth.
China wants more access for its companies in the U.S. market and for Washington to relax restrictions on the export of American-made high-tech goods. U.S. officials say China's lax intellectual property enforcement and policies are making it increasingly difficult for American and other foreign companies to compete.
"Now more than ever, with two years of dialogue behind us, success depends on our ability to translate good words into concrete actions, on the issues that matter most to our people," Clinton said.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that in the wake of the global financial crisis, both the U.S. and Chinese economy have grown stronger as they have worked together to address their individual challenges.
In China he says, that challenge is moving from an export driven economy to one that focuses more on domestic demand and implementing a flexible, market-driven exchange rate and more open economy. For the U.S., he says, the challenge is addressing problems such as high unemployment and promoting education and innovation as it addresses long term fiscal reforms.
"The reforms that we must both pursue to meet these very different challenges are not in conflict and the strengths of our economies are still largely complementary," Geithner said. "And we each recognize that our ability to work together is important to the overall health and stability of the global economy."
Range of issues
The strategic track of the talks will focus on global issues such as cooperation in addressing the North Korea and Iran nuclear issue, efforts to cooperate on climate change as well as military to military ties.
For the first time, this year's dialogue will include a range of military officials from both sides. Following Monday's economic and strategic track talks, the co-chairs of the meeting, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai, will meet with President Obama this evening at the White House.