China’s new paramount leader Xi Jinping met with American treasury secretary Jack Lew in Beijing on Tuesday in what was his first meeting with a foreign official since being formally named president last week.
According to American officials, the two men discussed the major issues between their countries: the state of the global economy, China’s currency, cyber hacking, intellectual property rights and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. It was the highest level meeting between American and Chinese officials since Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Beijing in September.
Lew was reportedly “candid and direct” on North Korea. The United States want China to enforce tougher sanctions enacted by the United Nations Security Council after the country conducted a nuclear test in February. There is doubt about China’s commitment in following through. Because China is North Korea’s main ally, it has historically been reticent of pushing too hard on the regime for strategic reasons and a fear that should the government in Pyongyang collapse, a flow of refugees will seek shelter in China and destabilize the border region.
That Lew was candid and direct with Xi is in itself interesting since treasury secretary does not usually cover a security issue.
The meeting occurred as B-52 bombers were participating in training exercises between the American and South Korean militaries. The use of strategic long range bombers is used to convey larger diplomatic concerns from the United States. In this case to China over the North’s provocative statements in recent weeks, including its announcement that it was nullifying the 1953 Korean War armistice.
Lew’s visit came as the United States’ economy is showing signs of growth, even though its unemployment rate remains at extraordinary high levels, with shale gas technology causing many to predict the nation can be energy self-sufficient in the foreseeable future. Lew reportedly told Xi that the United States were in the midst of an energy revolution.
The Treasury Secretary also reminded Xi that the United States want China to reduce its trade barriers and allow the yuan to float more freely. American officials have long pressured the Chinese to devaluate their currency faster even if its value has increased some 30 percent against the dollar since 2005.
Xi, scheduled to leave for Moscow this week on his first trip overseas as president and then on to Africa, said that “in the US-China relationship, we have enormous shared interests but of course unavoidably we have some differences.” It will take more such meetings as occurred between the president and Lew on Tuesday to resolve them.