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China's heir apparent calls for building mutual trust

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:36 PM EST, Wed February 15, 2012
  • NEW: Protesters moved away from Iowa house where Xi is visiting
  • Xi says he hopes the United States will oppose Taiwanese and Tibetan independence
  • Xi travels to Iowa, a state he first visited as a provincial official in 1985
  • The Chinese vice president is expected to become China's next leader

Washington (CNN) -- Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Wednesday met with U.S. congressional leaders and then told business leaders that China and the United States must work toward building mutual trust.

In a Washington speech sponsored by the U.S.-China Business Council, Xi said relations between the two world powers were "at a new historical starting point at this second decade of the 21st century."

"We need to make important efforts toward mutual understanding and strategic trust," Xi said, defending Chinese economic policies that have been labeled unfair by the U.S. government.

China has faced accusations of manipulating its currency by keeping the yuan low, which makes Chinese goods cheaper.

"China has been taking measures to increase imports by the U.S.," Xi said, pointing out that China has allowed its currency to rise.

He also offered some advice for the United States, saying it needs to address its economic situation by stimulating job creation and improving the balance of U.S. international payments.

Xi, who is expected to become the next Community Party leader and president of China, emphasized the two nations' "interwoven interests" and said they "should reduce misunderstanding and suspicion."

China-U.S relations take center stage

Earlier Wednesday, Xi huddled behind closed doors with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and other key members from both political parties.

President Obama welcomes China's VP

His Washington visit included White House meetings Tuesday with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other top officials, providing a chance for the American leaders to assess the presumptive next leader of China.

Biden, Xi discuss human rights

In the Oval Office, Obama said China's meteoric rise as an economic powerhouse brought a responsibility to ensure balanced trade flows, referring to China's trade surpluses.

China's vice president set to meet Obama

The president also raised the delicate issue of human rights as a critical area of concern for the United States.

"We've tried to emphasize that because of China's extraordinary development over the last two decades, that with expanding power and prosperity also comes increased responsibilities," Obama said while sitting next to Xi.

"We want to work with China to make sure everyone is working by the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system," he added.

For his part, Xi said Tuesday the main purpose of his visit was to work to strengthen U.S.-Chinese relations and build a "cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interests."

In his speech Wednesday, Xi noted renewed U.S. political interest in the Asia-Pacific region following a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"China welcomes a constructive role by the United States in promoting peace, prosperity and stability in the Asia-Pacific," he said. "At the same time, we hope the United States will respect the interests and concerns of China and other countries in this region."

In particular, Xi said he hoped the United States would oppose Taiwanese independence and support peaceful cross-strait relations, in addition to opposing Tibetan independence.

Xi's five-day U.S. trip is an opportunity to burnish his leadership credentials. President Hu Jintao undertook a similar visit 10 years ago as he was being groomed for the top job.

Beneath the carefully choreographed presentation of the high-profile Washington meetings were a range of contentious issues on which Xi has little incentive to give ground, including trade, human rights and China's growing military presence.

In welcoming Xi on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden said the United States and China had one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world. But the two countries, he said, were not always going to see eye to eye.

"We saw this in the recent U.N Security Council debate about Syria, where we strongly disagreed with China and Russia's veto of a resolution against the unconscionable violence being perpetrated by the Assad regime," Biden said.

Chinese officials are aware of U.S. concerns, but Xi and other leaders face the challenge of keeping China's hundreds of millions of workers content as economic growth starts to ease from the torrid levels of recent years.

Policy makers in Beijing are grappling with how to tackle rapidly rising prices and the widening gap between rich and poor.

In addition to looking toward the future, Xi's itinerary gives a nod to his past.

In Iowa later Wednesday, Xi revisted Muscatine, the town in which he stayed in April 1985 as part of a Chinese delegation looking into farming technology.

Iowa farm town gets ready for important visitor

Economist: China is poor per capita
President Obama welcomes China's VP
The rise of China's Xi Jinping

Xi will also attend a dinner with Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, whom he originally met during his 1985 trip.

After Iowa, Xi will fly Thursday to Los Angeles, where he is scheduled to attend an economic forum and meet with local leaders and students.

His engagements in the United States began Monday with a dinner in Washington attended by former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright.

He has received a less cordial welcome from activists advocating Tibetan independence who demonstrated on Monday and Tuesday in Washington.

More protesters turned up in Iowa on Wednesday, including six people carrying flags and signs as they approached a house Xi was visiting. The protesters were forced back by police, and it was unclear whether Xi saw them.

Beijing has been struggling in recent weeks to contain unrest among ethnic Tibetans in the southwestern province of Sichuan. It has sent additional security forces to the region after Tibetan protesters set themselves on fire and clashed with police to express frustration with Chinese rule.

CNNMoney's Jennifer Liberto and CNN's Jethro Mullen, Tom Cohen, Stan Grant, Greg Seaby and Moni Basu contributed to this report.

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