US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will host bilateral talks with China’s top diplomat Tuesday in Washington amid preparations for the upcoming state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao.
US President Barack Obama is to host Hu in the White House on January 19 as the two major powers address diplomatic ties strained by trade and currency, security and human rights issues.
Geithner and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will hold closed-door discussions on Tuesday afternoon, a US Treasury Department statement said.
Yang is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday.
The White House signaled there would be no let-up in US pressure on Beijing to allow its yuan currency to appreciate. Critics say China keeps the yuan undervalued to gain an unfair trade advantage that has cost thousands of US jobs.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs highlighted Monday the Obama administration’s pressing China issues for the new year in one of his frequent question-and-answer sessions on the online microblogging service Twitter.
Asked by a Twitter user, under the name @escapetochengdu, about Obama’s plans for China relations in 2011, Gibbs, alias @PressSec, replied in Twitter shorthand: “They must do something about their currency — trade, N Korea and rights on agenda.”
Washington has made no secret of its hopes for tangible results after constant pressure on Beijing for a rise in the value of the yuan before Hu’s visit.
In Japan in November, Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon told reporters that Hu’s visit would be a good time to assess “the quantum of progress” on the issue.
In recent weeks however there have been signs that Chinese authorities have been allowing the yuan to slowly appreciate ahead of Hu’s visit, likely to feature prominent coverage of trade and currency tensions.
The People’s Bank of China set the yuan central parity rate — the middle of the currency’s allowed trading band — at 6.6227 to the dollar Friday, meaning it has appreciated about three percent against the greenback since June 19.
Obama and Hu last met in Seoul on the fringes of the Group of 20 summit in November, and are due to hold talks at the White House and a state dinner during the Chinese president’s visit to Washington.
But serious divisions between the two largest economies will simmer beneath the diplomatic pageantry, including Washington’s desire for a bigger Chinese effort to influence North Korea, amid high tensions on the peninsula following Pyongyang’s assault on a South Korean island in November.
Hu’s visit will be the culmination of a flurry of preparatory diplomacy by top officials from both sides.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is due to visit China between January 9 to 12, a year after Beijing snapped off military relations with Washington in protest against a multibillion-dollar US arms package for Taiwan.