Xi waves off China economy fears, triggers deals

LOS ANGELES Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:20pm EST

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping speaks during a visit to the Rick Kimberley family farm, in Maxwell, Iowa February 16, 2012. REUTERS/Charlie Neibergall/Pool

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping speaks during a visit to the Rick Kimberley family farm, in Maxwell, Iowa February 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Charlie Neibergall/Pool

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said on Friday the Chinese economy would experience stable growth and avoid a hard landing this year, discounting a scenario economists fear may upset the global economy.

The Chinese leader-in-waiting, turning to courting American companies and governors hungry for a slice of his nation's growth, told a business forum in Los Angeles that the world's No. 2 economy will continue to push domestic demand while directing investment toward the United States.

Xi said "2012 will be a crucial year in driving the 12th five-year plan. China's economy will maintain stable growth ... there will be no so-called hard landing."

"We will encourage more consumption, imports, and outward investment," he told a business forum in Los Angeles on the final leg of his five-day U.S. visit, drawing light applause.

Xi is almost certain to succeed Hu Jintao as Chinese president in just over a year, and his tour of the United States has featured commercial deals and reassuring talk intended to blunt American ire about the trade gap between the countries.

But the 58-year-old former Shanghai party secretary found time also for less weighty matters, including a quick detour to the International Studies Learning School in South Gate -- an urban Los Angeles enclave of mainly Hispanics.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Xi met with students studying Chinese and watched as students performed a traditional dragon dance to drums and did kung fu moves to applause.

"Notwithstanding the differences on matters relating to trade and some other issues, there's one thing we absolutely agree wholeheartedly, that the future of the 21st century is going to be written in large part by how well the United States of America and China meet their mutual responsibilities, for us to cooperate in a friendly way," Biden said after.

BUTTING HEADS

Xi is poised to become China's next leader after a decade in which it has grown to become the world's second-largest economy, while the United States has endured the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The twin superpowers now butt heads on a plethora of issues from human rights to Taiwan. The U.S. trade deficit with China expanded to a record $295.5 billion in 2011 and many U.S. lawmakers complain that China's yuan currency is significantly undervalued, giving its companies an unfair advantage.

As well, the Obama administration has accused Beijing of distorting trade flows by ignoring intellectual property theft, putting up barriers against foreign investors and creating rules that favor China's state-owned behemoths.

On Friday, Xi said his country is working to address those concerns.

"We are strengthening intellectual property protection through a mix of administrative and judicial measures," he said.

Xi's stop in Los Angeles has been choreographed to display China's case that its rapid growth presents the U.S. economy with opportunities, not threats. He is also due to attend a meeting of U.S. state governors and Chinese provincial leaders talking about expanding economic links.

Scores of executives from major U.S. and Chinese companies, from Intel to Microsoft, lined up to sign a plethora of deals after Xi's address at the economic forum on Friday. Those included "Kung Fu Panda" studio Dreamworks Animation's venture to make films from Shanghai, and Chinese telecoms giant Huawei's pledge to award $6 billion of contracts over three years to Qualcomm Inc, Broadcom Corp and Avago.

The Chinese trade delegation this week also inked deals to buy a record 13.4 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans, valued at $6.7 billion. Before Los Angeles, Xi visited the heartland farm state of Iowa, where Chinese soybean buyers announced they would buy more than $4 billion in U.S. soybeans this year.

At a midday reception for Xi that brought together some U.S. governors and their Chinese counterparts, Biden said the United States welcomed Chinese competition and investment. But he again nudged Xi on trade barriers.

"Competition can only benefit everyone if the rules are fair and followed," he said. "The faster the U.S. economy grows, the more Chinese citizens will benefit."

ELECTION-YEAR FEUDING?

Chinese officials are worried about their government becoming a focus of feuding during the U.S. presidential election race, when jobs and economic opportunities are likely to weigh on many voters' minds.

On Thursday, a leading Republican contender for the White House, Mitt Romney, criticized President Barack Obama's China policy and called meetings this week with Vice President Xi "empty pomp."

Earlier, in Washington, Xi suggested that the United States should fix its own economic problems and relax high-tech export controls, instead of blaming China.

"China has become the United States' fastest growing export market," Xi told an audience of business executives and policymakers on Wednesday.

"Speaking frankly, an important aspect of addressing the imbalance in Chinese-U.S. trade is the United States' own economic policies and structural adjustment."

Xi echoed those sentiments on Friday but also sought to dispel fears that China's economic and political ascendancy could pose a threat.

"A prosperous and stable China will not be a threat to any country," he said.

(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert in Washington; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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