By Scott Wilson and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 7:07 PM
Chinese President Hu Jintao called Thursday for deeper engagement with the United States on a broad range of issues, warning that only by working together in some areas and respecting national differences in others will the two nations avoid friction in the years ahead.
Speaking to hundreds of industry leaders, lobbyists, and diplomats at a lunch hosted by the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on United States-China Relations, Hu said, "It is fair to say our two countries have never enjoyed such broad common interests and shouldered such important common responsibilities as we do today," particularly in the economically vital Asia-Pacific region.
Despite a difficult year in U.S.-China relations, Hu listed his work with Obama on the global economic crisis, Iran, North Korea and climate change as evidence that the two countries have more binding them together than dividing them.
But he also said that issues of essential national interest - he named China's claim to Tibet and Taiwan - should be managed with care. "Otherwise," Hu said, "our relations will suffer constant trouble or even tension."
"It is only normal that we have some disagreements and frictions," Hu said. But the two sides should manage them "with a sense of responsibility to history and to the future," he said.
Hu's 22-minute speech spanned the security, economic and social issues that define the relationship between what the Chinese leader described as the world's largest developed and developing countries. His optimistic assessment concluded his visit to Washington, which included meetings at the White House, a festive state dinner and a visit to Capitol Hill.
As he prepares to leave office next year, Hu had hoped for a visit free of the protest and diplomatic gaffes that marred his last trip here in 2006.
And although demonstrators calling for a free Tibet traced his itinerary during his time in Washington, he largely got what he had hoped for, even as Obama made clear that China's human rights record would remain a source of tension between the countries until it improves. Liu Xiaobo, a writer and democracy advocate who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, is currently in prison, along with many other political dissidents.
In his luncheon speech, Hu echoed his admission, made at a White House news conference the previous day, that China has work to do in making room for greater civil liberties in its development model, which administration officials have praised for lifting hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty over the past decade.
"Despite the remarkable achievements in China's development, we are keenly aware that China is still the largest developing country in the world," Hu said. "We still have a long way to go before we achieve our national development goals."
He said China's policies would bring more focus to promoting "social equity and justice," and he said his country would remain committed to upholding a policy of reform and "opening up," including an economy that Obama hopes will buy more U.S. exports in the coming years. Hu said economic growth remains the key to his goal of creating a "modern socialist country."
Hu listed several proposals for broadening U.S.-China relations, including the exchanges of students, scientists and cultural leaders that Obama has also sought to expand. He said the exchanges were particularly important to promote better understanding among young Americans and Chinese, some of whom have adopted a fierce nationalism that has alarmed U.S. officials.
Hu also assured Americans that China would not engage in an arms race with the United States, pose a military threat to any country or pursue expansionism.
In the only public policy speech of his state visit to the United States, Hu said that both countries "must treat each other with respect and as equals."
"Taiwan and Tibet-related issues concern Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, and they represent China's core interests," he said. "They touch upon the national sentiments of 1.3 billion Chinese. We hope the U.S. side will honor its commitments and work with us to preserve the hard-won progress of our relations."
Hu, 68, whose main title in China is general secretary of the Communist Party, also vowed that China would "improve the socialist market economy," a system in which free-market economic reforms are overseen by the communist one-party state. "We will develop socialist democracy and build a socialist country under the rule of law. . . . We will make continuous progress in our endeavor to build a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious modern socialist country." He added, "We will stick to the basic state policy of opening to the outside world."
Saying that China stands for the peaceful resolution of disputes and has a "defensive" military posture, Hu pledged: "We do not engage in arms race or pose a military threat to any country. China will never seek hegemony or pursue an expansionist policy."
Hu spoke after he held closed-door meetings Thursday morning with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, who raised concerns about business and human rights matters a day after Hu was feted at the White House but also pressed on those issues by President Obama.
In an hour-long meeting between Hu and House leaders, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) emphasized intellectual property protections and security on the Korean Peninsula, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressed human rights matters.
Hu was preceded to the podium for his speech to business leaders by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger. Locke, a Chinese American former governor of Washington state, praised China for lifting "hundreds of millions of people out of poverty" and into a growing middle class. He said China and the United States now have "perhaps the most important bilateral trading relationship in the entire world."
Kissinger recalled that when he made a secret visit to China in 1971 to negotiate the opening of U.S.-China relations, Premier Zhou Enlai told him, "This will shake the world." Now, he said, "we can say that we are working to build the world, not to shake it."
Kissinger told the gathering, "We can call this summit a success not because it has solved every problem, but because it has shown the way by which the problems can and will be solved."
Hu highlighted examples of burgeoning U.S.-Chinese relations, noting that the United States is China's second-largest export market and that China is America's third-largest export market and the fastest-growing one.
"Over the past 10 years, quality yet inexpensive Chinese products have saved American consumers over $600 billion," Hu said.
He said China's economy grew at an average annual rate of around 11 percent over the last decade.