(CNN) -- The relationship between China and the United States is "the most important" bilateral relationship in the world, a former Chinese foreign ministry official said Monday.
Victor Zhikai Gao, now the director of the Beijing Private Equity Association, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that the United States should deal with Beijing "with respect" and not be "too abrasive."
"That's the minimum thing we can ask for, I believe," he said on the eve of talks between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Gao pointed out that China is now the United States' largest creditor nation, holding foreign reserves of more than $2 trillion, about two-thirds of which are assets that are denominated in U.S. dollars.
"China-U.S. relations are the most important bilateral relations in the world," Gao said.
Obama appears keen to put past U.S.-Chinese disagreements behind him as he seeks Chinese cooperation on a host of issues from the global economy and climate change to nuclear proliferation. He's also looking to China for leadership on how to deal with repressive regimes such as Myanmar and Sudan, both of which are friends of Beijing and major energy suppliers to China.
Critics of the U.S. president say he is downplaying what was once a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy, the promotion of human rights and democracy, in order to persuade China to help the United States achieve its foreign policy goals. But Obama insists America "will never waver in speaking up for the fundamental values that we hold dear."
Gao acknowledged global concern about China's human rights record, admitting the situation is not perfect.
"But if you look at today's human rights issues, and comparing that with what we had 30 years ago, 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, then China has made great improvements," he said.
Gao said China and the Chinese people are great admirers of America. But he said, "China's foreign policy is underlined by the principle of non-interference in each other's internal affairs. If it is only up to the United States to discuss human rights issues in China, this is unbalanced."
He also tried to reassure critics in the United States, some of whom have accused China of manipulating its currency to keep the cost of Chinese goods artificially low, about the impact of China's rapidly expanding economic power. By some estimates, China's economy will be the same size as the U.S. economy by 2025, though there will still be a huge gap in economic output per person.
"Let me make the record straight. Over the past few months since the outbreak of the financial crisis, China has continued to purchase Treasury bonds issued by the U.S. government, rather than reducing them in any way," he said.
"So I think the American people need to realize that China has applied a very steady hand and very responsible hand in dealing with issues involving the dollar."
Gao said China has no desire to be an enemy of the United States. "Both China and the United States need to give each other due respect and need to incentivize each other. And then we can work together towards a better peace and better world."