BEIJING — Vice President Biden on Thursday began a four-day get-to-know-you mission here as the guest of his Chinese counterpart, stressing the importance of the two countries working together to combat the global economic crisis.
But the trip, carefully choreographed by Chinese leaders, got off to an awkward start when Chinese security officials forcibly shoved foreign journalists out of the conference room before Biden had finished making his prepared remarks in his meeting with Vice President Xi Jinping.
White House and U.S. Embassy officials, visibly irked, tried to intervene but were also shoved by the guards, according to accounts by those in the room.
Biden continued speaking, undeterred by the melee. In the account of his remarks released later, Biden told Xi, “Fifty years from now, 100 years from now, historians and scholars will judge us based upon whether or not we’re able to establish a strong, permanent and friendly working relationship.”
“There’s no more important relationship that we need to establish on the part of the United States than a close relationship with China,” Biden said, according to a White House transcript.
“The economic stability of the world rests in no small part on the cooperation between . . . the United States and China,” Biden said. “It is the key, in my view, to global economic stability.”
Xi said: “Under the new circumstances, China and the United States share even broader common interests and co-shoulder more common responsibilities. Enhancing the China-U.S. relationship fits not only the interests of the two nations, but also that of the world.”
Xi’s remarks were provided by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
Biden’s visit here comes after weeks of wrangling in Washington over raising the U.S. debt ceiling and a credit downgrade by the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s. China, in turn, has been blistering in its criticism of U.S. economic management, using its position as the largest foreign holder of Treasury securities to blast the United States in the state-run media for its “addiction to debt.”
Biden seemed to acknowledge the integral part China now plays in the U.S. economy after Xi informally welcomed him by saying: “Good to see you again. I know you are busy with national affairs at home.”
Biden replied: “You are national affairs. You are our national affairs.”
Chinese leaders are expected to seek assurances regarding their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities and whether U.S. monetary policy might lead to a further weakening of the dollar. China is concerned that the weak American currency is devaluing its vast stockpile of dollars.
Biden is expected to continue to press China on allowing its currency, the renminbi, to further appreciate and to continue its shift away from relying on the American market for exports. The United States wants China to increase its domestic consumption, which in turn would help American companies that want to do business here.
But this visit mainly provides U.S. officials with the chance to make an up-close assessment of Xi, who is expected to take over the leadership of China’s government and ruling Communist Party in a stage-managed transition beginning next year.
U.S. China experts say that even after nearly a decade in power, the current president, Hu Jintao, remains largely a mystery. This trip allows Biden and his entourage to get a sense of Xi early on, before he assumes control.
Biden and Xi are scheduled to spend a large amount of time together, including at a banquet Thursday night, co-hosting a roundtable meeting of Chinese and American business leaders Friday and traveling to the western Chinese province of Sichuan over the weekend. In Sichuan, they are to visit the area struck by a 2008 earthquake and have dinner together in a local restaurant.
The Chinese side, meanwhile, got a glimpse of Biden’s familiar off-the-cuff humor. Greeting one member of the Chinese delegation at the arrival ceremony, Biden said: “Remember what I told you last time? If I had hair like yours, I'd be president.”