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China's new leader, Xi Jinping, told the U.S. Treasury secretary he wants strong ties with Washington as the two sides resumed high-level interaction Tuesday following a months-long hiatus during the Chinese leadership transition.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew's agenda for the two-day visit includes North Korea's nuclear program, China's exchange rate controls and cyberspying.
"I attach great importance to China's relationship with the United States," Xi told Lew during a meeting attended by diplomats and finance officials from both governments. "We stand ready to work with the U.S. side to continue to develop this China-U.S. cooperative partnership so that we will be able to open a path of cooperation between major countries."
The meeting was the first high-level U.S.-Chinese contact since then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's brief visit to Beijing in September.
Leaders of the world's two biggest economies have stressed their common interests in security affairs and global economic stability even as they wrangle over complaints about China's trade surpluses, its exchange rate controls and efforts to curb global warming. Numerous computer hacking attacks on U.S. companies have been traced to China.
Contacts were suspended during the U.S. presidential election and China's once-a-decade leadership transition, which began with Xi being named Communist Party leader in November. He became president last week.
Xi referred to Lew as a "special representative" of President Barack Obama, suggesting he might be responsible for a wider range of issues than just finance. Xi acknowledged the two sides have "some differences" but said they have "enormous shared interests" and should "handle this relationship from a strategic and long-term perspective."
Lew said Washington wants to work with Beijing to reduce trade and investment barriers and to "protect the work of our innovators," a reference to complaints about rampant Chinese copying of foreign goods from Hollywood movies to software and telecoms technology.
"The president is firmly committed to building a relationship of growing strength," Lew said at the meeting in the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's ceremonial legislature in Beijing.
Lew said the U.S. government looks forward to China's growth as a market for foreign goods. Chinese leaders have pledged to build a consumer-driven economy, reducing reliance on trade and investment. That might help to boost demand for imports, narrowing China's multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States, a chronic source of tension.
Also at the meeting were China's new finance minister Lou Jiwei, U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, an assistant Chinese foreign minister Cui Tiankai and other officials of both governments.
At a later 45-minute private meeting, Lew raised exchange rates, intellectual property, cybersecurity and North Korea, according to a U.S. official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. The official gave no other details.
Lew was due to meet with Premier Li Keqiang, who took office last week as China's top economic official. He also was due to meet the newly appointed chairman of the Cabinet's powerful planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also plans to visit Beijing next month.
In a phone call with Xi last week, Obama stressed the need for cooperation to ensure North Korea fulfills commitments to eliminate its nuclear development efforts, according to the White House.
In a reflection of wide-ranging ties, the White House said Obama also discussed China's exchange rate policy, trade, intellectual property protection and cybersecurity threats.
The Obama administration has been escalating its criticism of cyber and intellectual property thefts by China.
A security firm, Mandiant, said last month it traced electronic break-ins at more than 140 companies to a military unit in Shanghai. The Chinese government rejected the report and said it also is a victim of hacking, much of it traced to the United States.