WASHINGTON (AP) — The economies of China and the U.S. have become "interdependent and inseparable," a top Chinese official said Wednesday after high-level trade talks which were being watched for signs of how the two powers will cooperate after their respective political transitions.
Vice Premier Wang Qishan was speaking after the annual U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. Tackling dozens of thorny, detailed trade issues, the two days of talks were short on big outcomes but set an upbeat tone for relations after President Barack Obama's re-election and the elevation of new leaders of China's ruling Communist Party.
Wang, who last month was elevated to a spot in the elite seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, said recovery of the world economy in the next five years will be sluggish, so the U.S.-China economic relationship has acquired critical importance.
"Our two countries have to strengthen our economic relationship. We have to come to terms with the fact that we have become interdependent and inseparable," he said.
The two nations share more than $500 billion in two-way trade, heavily weighted in China's favor. That is a longstanding bone of contention for Washington, which has stepped up its trade complaints against China. It also wants Beijing to stimulate domestic demand so its economy is less reliant on export growth and allow more market access for American companies.
New Chinese party leader Xi Jinping, who will succeed Hu Jintao as the nation's president in March, is already under domestic pressure to revive a Chinese economy that has slowed some after three decades of rapid growth.
Speaking to American business executives at a glitzy dinner after the trade talks, Wang drew a direct comparison between Xi and Obama, saying both had a "very heavy weight to bear" to make good on promises they have made to their peoples during the campaign for "election."
Wang said China was sticking to the path of economic reform. He said China would honor its promises to observe trade rules and give fair treatment to foreign companies — amid concerns over the reach of China's hulking state-owned enterprises and restrictions on investment in some sectors of the economy.
"When we say we are opening up in China, it's not just empty talk," said Wang, who has been China's point man on financial and trade policy with the United States. He will soon be giving up that portfolio to focus on the fight against corruption.
Both sides were upbeat about the wide-ranging trade talks.
The U.S. cited progress on intellectual property protection, market barriers and Chinese government procurement policies but said there was much more to be done.
"We have provided a new platform for a strong U.S.-China relationship," acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank told a news conference.
China pointed to U.S. reforms of its controls on high-technology exports and a commitment to fair treatment for Chinese companies investing in the U.S. China claims its companies are discriminated against in national security screening procedures.
Commerce Minister Chen Deming sounded a note of caution, saying China still needed to wait for a while to observe "what kind of measures the U.S. side is going to take." Wang contended that Chinese investors were being subject to political background checks.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said China's concerns on the investment screening would be referred to Treasury but defended the screening procedures as having affected few investors. He said Chinese direct investment in the U.S. had grown to $9 billion from $2 billion in just three years.