China urges patience, US urges action at talks

Updated: 2007-05-23 09:10

Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi speaks during the beginning of the US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue hosted by US Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson (L) in Washington, May 22, 2007. [Reuters]

WASHINGTON -- At high-level economic talks that wrap up Wednesday, China is urging frustrated US officials to be patient as the two powers work to manage a delicate trade relationship. The United States, by contrast, is pushing for quick action.

The talks began Tuesday and could yield some results, including increased US airline flights to China and a lowering of barriers to sales of American energy technology products in China.

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Senior US officials have tamped down expectations of major breakthroughs, however, as they described the meetings as strategic discussions, not negotiating sessions. US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the twice-a-year talks are "all about the long-term; developing a common understanding of the future."

Still, the US side made a point of noting simmering frustration. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Americans are by nature impatient people; Gutierrez described the "need to make progress in all areas as soon as possible."

The urgency is reflected in an increasingly restive US Congress, where lawmakers are considering a spate of bills that would impose economic sanctions on China. Many blame America's soaring trade deficits and the loss of one in six manufacturing jobs since 2000 in part on claims of Chinese currency manipulation and copyright piracy.

In blunt words, Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi cautioned the United States against making accusations.

"We should not easily blame the other side for our own domestic problems," Wu said through an interpreter. "Confrontation does no good at all to problem-solving."

Wu, known as a tough negotiator, said that both countries should "firmly oppose trade protectionism." She warned that any effort to "politicize" the economic relationship between the two nations would be "absolutely unacceptable."

Wu and her delegation were scheduled to meet privately this week with major congressional leaders.

The US delegation raised the issue of food safety highlighted by such incidents as the deaths of pets who had eaten pet food made with tainted wheat gluten imported from China.

US Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, briefing reporters at the end of the first day of talks, said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns had made a forceful presentation to the Chinese about the concerns Americans have about food safety. In response, she said, Chinese officials sought to assure the Americans that they would fully investigate any problems discovered.

Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and four other senators urged the Bush administration in a letter to get Chinese commitments to cooperate in investigations into food safety, saying that the way China currently handles the issue is unacceptable.

Paulson created the talks last year as a way to get the countries' top policy makers together twice a year to work toward reduced trade tensions. The first meeting was in Beijing last December.

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