- Barack Obama - China - human rights - US economy - USA
AFP - The 21st century will be defined by relations between China and the United States, US President Barack Obama said, as the two powers headed into a second day of strategic and economic talks.
Top officials from Beijing and Washington swapped views on reviving the global economic and fighting climate change during a first day of meetings on Monday where Obama laid out a vision of "cooperation, not confrontation".
"The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world," he said as he kicked off the dialogue.
"That reality must underpin our partnership," he said. "That is the responsibility we bear."
Obama's comments on China were effusive for US leaders, who have generally stopped short of calling the Sino-US relationship the "most important" in the world, but he did not ignore US concerns about human rights.
While Americans respect China's "ancient culture," he said, "we also strongly believe that the religion and culture of all peoples must be respected and protected, and that all people should be free to speak their minds."
"That includes ethnic and religious minorities in China, as surely as it includes minorities within the United States."
The strategic dialogue, involving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, revamps a process launched under former US president George W. Bush in 2006 that focused solely on economic issues.
A US official inside the closed-door talks acknowledged that China -- now the biggest lender to the heavily indebted United States -- aired "serious concerns" about the outlook of the US economy.
China has already fretted aloud about the safety of its more than 800 billion dollars in US Treasury bonds -- turning the tables on Washington after years of US-led pressure on Beijing on trade issues.
Yet both sides expressed a hope for deeper understanding.
"We are in the same big boat that has been hit by fierce wind and huge waves," said State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who led the Chinese delegation along with Vice Premier Wang Qishan.
"What we can do is to try to cross the stormy weather together as passengers on this boat."
David Shear, director of China affairs at the State Department, called the first day of talks "very constructive, very candid" but largely general in scope.
"We're going to spend most of our time getting to know each other," Shear told reporters, adding that the two sides would now identify common interests to pursue in future sessions.
Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate change, said the Chinese side was eager to work with Washington to clinch a new global climate-change treaty despite longstanding differences between rich and developing nations.
"I think there's a lot of interest on the Chinese side fundamentally to arrive at a constructive and successful outcome in Copenhagen," Stern said, referring to a December conference in the Danish capital to finalize a treaty.
Leonard Leo, head of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan government advisory body, said the dialogue offered an opportunity as China would ignore any separate talks focused only on human rights.
"China will only take human rights concerns seriously when they are discussed at the highest levels and in tandem with other strategic interests," he said.