China's president-in-waiting Xi woos U.S. before visit

BEIJING Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:06pm GMT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China and the United States should cooperate more closely to defuse international crises and ensure friction does not overwhelm shared interests, China's likely next president, Xi Jinping, said on Monday, setting an upbeat tone for his impending visit to Washington.

"No matter what changes affect the international situation, our commitment to developing the Sino-U.S. cooperative partnership should never waver in the face of passing developments," Vice President Xi told a meeting in Beijing.

"In dealing with major and sensitive issues that concern each side's core interests, we must certainly abide by a spirit of mutual respect and handle them prudently, and by no means can we let relations again suffer major interference and ructions."

Xi's mood-setting speech did not unveil new policies or give the precise date for his U.S. visit. But he stressed Beijing's desire for steady relations for his visit and his accession to running the world's second biggest economy after America's.

Xi's growing seniority indicates that he is virtually certain to replace Hu Jintao as Chinese Communist Party chief in late 2012 and then replace him as state president in early 2013.

His trip to the United States will be important for burnishing his credentials, and Washington is also hungry for clues of about his worldview. The official China Daily last week said Xi (pronounced like "shee") is likely to make his trip in February. Neither government has named a date.

"I will soon visit the United States at the invitation of Vice President Biden, and I hope that my visit can play a positive role in advancing the Sino-U.S. cooperative partnership," Xi told the gathering of officials, diplomats and scholars commemorating 40 years since U.S. President Richard Nixon made his historic, ice-breaking trip to China in 1972.

Xi was accompanied by Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national security adviser in 1972, who was instrumental in that trip.

PLENTY TO TALK ABOUT

Yet even with Xi's upbeat tone, he will have plenty of disagreements to wrestle with in Washington and later on.

Ties between Beijing and Washington have been buffeted by strains over trade, regional policy and military intentions that could be complicated this year by China's leadership succession and the U.S. presidential race.

The United States has repeatedly complained about its big trade deficit with China, which many U.S. lawmakers says is swelled by Beijing's controls holding down the value of its yuan currency. Beijing has chided the Obama administration for policies that Chinese official said could undermine the value of their huge holdings of dollar-denominated assets.

Washington has urged China to explain more clearly how it could use its rapidly modernising military forces.

Beijing has voiced its own misgivings about the Pentagon's plans to shore up U.S. military strength across the Asia-Pacific region. Beijing also seethes at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China calls an illegitimate breakaway province.

Beijing and Washington disagree on how to deal with Iran and North Korea, with the U.S. and its allies favouring firmer use of sanctions and pressure.

Xi nevertheless said Beijing and Washington could find common ground over diplomatic crises, as well as climate change and energy, trade, and the direction of global economic growth.

"China and the United States keep close contact, whether in responding to the international financial crisis, climate change and other global challenges, or in dealing with denuclearising the Korean peninsula, the Iran nuclear issue, and the Middle East, south Asia and other regional hotspots," said Xi who -- unlike past Chinese presidents -- speaks a clear, standard Mandarin accent.

He said China's "core interests" should be respected, but stressed room for cooperation and a desire to avoid roller-coaster ups and downs.

In August, Xi hosted U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on a visit that gave Washington policy-makers a chance to size up China's president-in-waiting. Biden will also host Xi when he visits the United States.

Xi is the son of the late, reformist vice premier Xi Zhongxun, making him a "princeling": one of the privileged offspring of China's leaders who rose to power under Mao Zedong.

Xi, who rose through the party ranks in coastal provinces, has rarely spoken at length on foreign policy. But in Mexico in 2009, he dropped his guard to growl at the international demands piling up at Beijing's door.

"Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us," Xi said, in comments that drew applause from Chinese Internet users.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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