China's foreign minister says his country's main diplomatic mission is to ensure continued economic growth at home.  He also touched on many other issues in a wide-ranging news conference Saturday, on the sidelines of the annual session of China's legislature, the National People's Congress. 

In these days of worldwide economic gloom, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi says the economy is taking center stage in Chinese diplomacy.

Yang says one over-arching objective is to "make every effort to serve the goal of ensuring steady and rapid economic development in China."

The Chinese foreign minister repeated Beijing's position that maintaining steady economic growth in China is the biggest contribution it can make in efforts against the global economic crisis.

He said he believes relations between Beijing and Washington are off to a good start under the new Obama administration.

Yang says President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama have had very good telephone conversations, and have reached important agreements on working together to advance China-U.S. relations.

The Chinese foreign minister will go soon to Washington, to discuss arrangements for the first meeting of the two presidents, expected at the G-20 summit in London in April.

Yang also pointed to a Chinese desire to strengthen relations with Europe, despite a decision to cancel a China-Europe summit in December. At the time, Beijing was angered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese official said the China-Europe meeting will be re-scheduled for later this year, but he also emphasized Beijing's extreme sensitivity to the Dalai Lama.

Yang called on other governments not to allow the man he referred to as simply "Dalai," to visit their countries, or to use their territories to engage in pro-Tibet independence activities.

The Dalai Lama has publicly and repeatedly said he does not seek independence for his homeland.  Instead, he has called for greater cultural and religious autonomy for Tibet, amidst charges by Tibetan activists that China is trying to wipe out Tibetan culture.

Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign minister also discussed his country's growing relations with Africa.

Yang says China appreciates the "tremendous support" from what he described as China's "African friends and brothers" on Taiwan, Tibet, the Beijing Olympics and the country's fight against natural disasters.

He acknowledged that China's energy and resource cooperation with African countries is based on mutual benefit.  But he also said the Chinese government's decision to pursue relations with another country is not solely based on whether that country is rich in oil.

He says Beijing has been deeply touched by African goodwill, even when African leaders tell Chinese leaders they have nothing concrete to give China.