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Biden begins China meetings

U.S. hopes to get read on future leader

BEIJING – Stressing the importance of personal ties, Vice President Joe Biden sat down today with his Chinese counterpart and the country’s leader-in-waiting for talks that will focus largely on U.S. economic woes.

Biden was given an honor-guard welcoming ceremony before meeting Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as Communist Party chief next year.

Biden said ahead of the talks that it is of “the utmost importance” to develop a close relationship with China.

“I would suggest that there is no more important relationship that we need to establish on the part of the United States than a close relationship with China,” he said.

In the run-up to Biden’s visit, Chinese commentators and media have sounded a drum beat on what the United States should do about its struggling economy, especially in the wake of the downgrade in the U.S. credit rating.

But the main purpose of Biden’s trip is get a better read on Xi, who will visit Washington later this year.

Besides meetings in Beijing, Xi will accompany Biden on a visit to Sichuan province. The U.S. vice president will deliver a speech in Sichuan, which was hit by an earthquake in 2008.

“I came away from our visit … greatly impressed — impressed with your openness,” Biden said. “It is my fond hope that our personal relationship will continue to grow.”

Biden is expected to raise human rights issues, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who said Wednesday in Washington that she believed Biden “will certainly talk about human rights in general.”

But China’s worries about the U.S. economy are the subtext for the five-day visit.

Xi said the financial crisis meant the countries had to work closely together.


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