Treasury Secretary Lew, Chinese president tackle thorny issues in Beijing


U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, left, prepares to shake hands with China's President Xi Jinping as he arrives for their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing March 19, 2013. (Reuters)

In his first meeting with any foreign official as China’s new president, Xi Jinping discussed trade issues with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Tuesday, underlining the importance of U.S.-Chinese economic ties.

Both men stuck largely to boilerplate diplomacy in the short portion of the meeting that was open to the media, emphasizing shared interests rather than differences.

“I can say we have a seamless connection,” Xi said at the top of the meeting.

But in private, according to U.S. officials, Xi and Lew discussed the increasingly thorny points of contention between the two countries, including cyberattacks, China’s currency valuation and intellectual property laws.

The 45-minute meeting in Beijing came during the first trip abroad for Lew since he took up his new post. In an e-mailed statement afterward, a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak by name described Lew as “candid and direct in his comments.” The meeting also covered North Korea, the global economy and Europe, including Cyprus, the official said.

Cyberattacks on corporations and defense contractors have generated increasing concern and political pressure in Washington as evidence mounts that many of the attacks came from China and the Chinese military. China’s exchange rate and often-criticized trade practices have also been long-standing areas of dispute.

But in one commentary reflective of Chinese officials’ thinking, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency pushed the burden of improving the relationship onto U.S. officials, saying that Lew’s main purpose during his visit should be to assure China that the United States would overcome its debt problems and rebuild its recovering economy.

During the remainder of Lew’s two-day trip, he is to meet with business leaders, China’s new finance minister and the head of its economic planning agency, as well as Li Keqiang, China’s new premier, who runs the country’s day-to-day affairs and has broad sway over the economy.

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.

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