U.S., China Ready To Start Fresh Talks On Economic Issues

BEIJING (AP) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and a Chinese leader announced a new dialogue on Wednesday to deal with economic issues as Washington and Beijing attempt to put relations soured over trade tensions on a new footing.

The strategic economic dialogue will deal with long-range and big-picture issues that affect the U.S. and China, Paulson and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi said in announcing the arrangement on the first day of his visit to Beijing.

Relations between the countries, once buoyed by robust trade, have sunk in recent years as China's trade surplus rockets ever higher and critics in Washington have accused Beijing of keeping the currency undervalued to make Chinese exports cheaper. Washington also wants Chinese help in restarting suspended world trade talks.

Neither Paulson nor Wu said whether the currency or the trade imbalance would be addressed in the dialogue. A U.S. Treasury Department statement said those issues, as well as China's need for better protection of intellectual property, would be on the agenda.

Paulson suggested that the dialogue should put economic relations in a new perspective.

''As global economic leaders we share responsibility to maintain open markets at home and promote free and fair trade in all countries,'' Paulson told reporters in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. The dialogue ''reflects the 21st century global economy and redefines the economic relationship between the United States and China.''

Such talk was likely well-received in Beijing, which wants to be treated as an equal partner by Washington, and was in keeping with a new tone Paulson has sought to inject in U.S.-China relations. The Bush administration's frequent use of public pressure in the past few years produced only marginal changes in Chinese policy on trade and the currency.

Though making his first trip as treasury secretary, Paulson has visited China dozens of times as chairman of the investment bank Goldman Sachs, building extensive ties in Chinese business and political circles.

At the start of their meeting, Wu praised Paulson, saying that he ''understands even more about China than many Chinese people'' and called him a ''true friend of China.''

Paulson, while cordial, emphasized his commitment to addressing the thornier issues of China-U.S. trade relations in his new role.

''Because of the time that I have spent in China, I have learned how many common interests we have, how many interests we share, and I've also learned that some of the tensions that exist are also important and that it's very important that we find solutions to them,'' Paulson said.

As Paulson began his rounds in Beijing, a U.S. business group criticized new Chinese regulations that limit foreign news agencies' access to the Chinese market, saying they could impede the flow of information to Chinese banks and financial firms. The regulations, issued last week, give the state-run Xinhua News Agency control over the distribution of foreign news agencies' text, photos, financial and other information services.

Letting Xinhua regulate its competitors ''wholly undermines China's stated aim of creating a 'level playing field' for news media in China,'' the American Chamber of Commerce in China said in a statement.

Aside from the meeting with Wu, who was joined by Finance Minister Jin Renqing, Paulson was scheduled to meet other economic decision-makers as well as President Hu Jintao.

Exchange rate reform is among steps that Washington wants China to take in order to cut its trade gap with the United States, which last year reached US$202 billion and is expected to top that this year. Paulson, however, has said that he expects such reforms to take time.

Chinese leaders say they eventually will let the currency, the yuan, trade freely on world markets. But they say doing so immediately would cause economic turmoil, harming China's fragile banks and financial industries.

Under U.S. and other pressure, Beijing re-valued the yuan a slight 2.1 percent against the dollar 14 months ago but has allowed the currency to rise in value only another 2.2 percent since, even as the dollar has sunk against most major currencies.

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