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US offers warm welcome to China's next leader

Update: February, 15/2012 - 11:50

WASHINGTON – China's likely next leader Xi Jinping was feted with head-of-state-style honours on Tuesday by President Barack Obama, who has his own sights set on steering US-Beijing ties in a second four-year term.

Obama, seeking reelection in November, met Xi, expected to assume full power as China's top leader next year, in a preview of a possible new era for the world's most crucial 21st-century political and economic relationship.

The two men spoke for an extended Oval Office meeting of 85 minutes, as Xi was shepherded through a full programme by US Vice President Joe Biden, and enjoyed the rare honour of a 19-gun salute with booming cannons at the Pentagon.

The welcome, exceedingly rare for a mere vice president, reflected the importance Washington places in its relationship with Beijing, though did not paper over wide differences on economics and geopolitics.

Obama said that Washington welcomed a "prosperous" China and praised its "extraordinary development over the last two decades," but stressed that rising power for Beijing came with "increased responsibilities."

He also stressed that the United States intended to remain a power in the Asia-Pacific region, following testy exchanges over China's territorial claims in the East Sea during Obama's trip to Asia in November.

"We want to work with China to make sure that everybody is working by the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system," Obama said alongside a relaxed-looking Xi, as senior aides and translators stood by.

"That includes ensuring that there is a balanced trading flow not only between the United States and China but around the world," Obama said.

At the luncheon, Xi said the United States and China should " address each other's economic and trade concerns through dialogue and consultation, not protectionism, and uphold the mutually beneficial pattern of China-US economic relations and trade."

China has let its yuan appreciate since mid-2010 in response to concerns over inflation. But the United States wants China to do more and to take action in other areas including protection of US intellectual property.

Later, Biden hosted Xi at a sumptuous dinner at his official residence, and served Delaware crab cakes with corn salad, macho and basil tartar sauce and balsamic marinated beef tenderloin.

Renowned violin virtuoso Joshua Bell and pianist Sam Haywood entertained guests in an occasion grouping top US officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, which had all the trappings – minus the White House – of a state dinner.

Earlier, Xi and US defence chiefs agreed on the need to expanding military relations between the two powers after talks at the Pentagon Tuesday, a US military spokesman said. AFP

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