China swats away trouble before Xi's U.S. trip

BEIJING Thu Feb 9, 2012 3:58am EST

China's Vice President Xi Jinping smiles during a discussion with U.S. and Chinese business leaders at Beijing Hotel in Beijing, in this August 19, 2011 file photograph. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool/Files

China's Vice President Xi Jinping smiles during a discussion with U.S. and Chinese business leaders at Beijing Hotel in Beijing, in this August 19, 2011 file photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Lintao Zhang/Pool/Files

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China swatted away friction over Syria on Thursday to lay out an optimistic view of ties with the United States in the next decade when Vice President Xi Jinping, who visits the White House next week, is likely to lead the rising Asian power.

The U.S. visit will be an international rite of passage for Xi, who is virtually sure to succeed Hu Jintao as Communist Party chief late this year and as state president in early 2013.

In a briefing to set the tone for Xi's visit, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai argued that disputes over trade and international crises, most recently Syria, need not augur a constantly troubled relationship with the United States.

"I am optimistic about the overall development of relations between the two countries in the next decade," Cui told reporters, while stressing that both sides needed to work on cooperation.

"Of course, if we deviate from this direction, if we forget the experiences accumulated over the past 40 years, there will be high risks -- risks for China and the United States and for the whole world. This is something we need to avoid."

Ties between Beijing and Washington have been troubled by disputes over trade, China's policy on its yuan currency, its military intentions, and how to tackle North Korea's and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

This year, the strains could be complicated by China's Communist Party leadership succession and a U.S. presidential race.

Most recently, the Obama administration condemned China for joining Russia and vetoing a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution that Western powers said was intended to counter spiraling violence in Syria.

But Cui, whose portfolio covers steering relations with Washington, played down the potential for ructions in Washington over Syria while also defending the veto decision.

"Mutual accusations have little value and don't solve problems," Cui told the briefing.

"China believes that in international relations one should not rashly use force or the threat or force, and one shouldn't use external intervention to achieve regime change in another country," he said.

"When necessary, China will of course use its veto; when China has to show its hand, China will certainly show its hand. Nobody should have any illusions about that," he said.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman later said a Syrian opposition delegation had visited China this week and met Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun, signaling Chinese desire to show some involvement in ending the bloodshed.

REACHING OUT

Cui also brushed aside potentially embarrassing attention on an incident in which a prominent official from the southwest city of Chongqing visited a U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu, fanning online rumors in China that the official may have sought refuge at the consulate.

The U.S. State Department confirmed that the official, Wang Lijun, visited the consulate this week, but said it was a "scheduled meeting" and Wang left on his own accord.

Cui called it an "isolated incident," and said the matter had been "smoothly resolved." He did not elaborate.

China's president-in-waiting, Xi, will visit Washington from next Tuesday, later going to the farming state of Iowa where he stayed briefly in 1985 and then to Los Angeles. In Iowa, Xi will be reunited with a family he stayed with there.

China has not formally anointed Xi (pronounced "shee") as its next top leader, but his growing prominence indicates he is virtually certain to replace Hu as party chief and later as president.

China wants to reach out beyond Washington to bring its message of mutual cooperate to the American public, said Cui. He denied China felt unwelcome in the U.S. capital.

"I studied in Washington and don't think there's anything bad about it," said Cui, who studied there at School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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