U.S., China Work Through Sticky Issues China's President Hu Jintao was treated to an official state dinner with President Obama Wednesday night. The pomp of the visit hasn't managed to obscure the difficult relationship between China and the U.S. The two leaders tried to focus on the positive during a news conference Wednesday.

U.S., China Work Through Sticky Issues

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NPR's China correspondent Rob Gifford was listening. He's going to help us interpret what was said. Hi, Rob.


INSKEEP: Let's listen to a little bit of this press conference. The two presidents were trying to accentuate the positive.

INSKEEP: The positive, constructive, cooperative U.S.-China relationship is good for the United States. We just had a very good meeting with the business leaders from both our countries.

INSKEEP: That's President Obama at the news conference. China's President Hu also spoke in those positive terms, but then added something else.

INSKEEP: (Through Translator) We discussed some disagreements in economic and trade area, and we will continue to appropriately resolve these according to the principle of mutual respect and consultation on an equal footing.

INSKEEP: That's China's president, speaking through an interpreter there. Rob, what do you hear when you listen to those statements?

GIFFORD: There weren't really any breakthroughs yesterday - we weren't really expecting any - but the fact that they're talking to each other, agreeing to disagree on other issues as well as meeting in a very formal but relatively friendly context, I think that's the issue in itself - that the relationship is solid and going forward.

INSKEEP: When Hu Jintao talks about mutual respect and consultation on an equal footing, what I'm tempted to hear there is hey, United States, don't think you're the world leader.

GIFFORD: I think that's very much the case. Probably President Hu was actually having to rein in that confidence a little bit. Some have called it hubris. I think a lot of people saying China has a got a little bit too overconfident about how well it has done through the economic crisis.

INSKEEP: Now, President Obama did speak bluntly about a Chinese policy having to do with their currency. He wants the currency to be revaluated, and he called this part of the problem - to which Hu Jintao said nothing. What do you take from the silence there?

GIFFORD: I think part of that is just the usual Chinese attitude of not wanting to be lectured to in public. But I think it's also that China feels that it is already addressing this issue. They have said over the last few months that they're committed to reforming their exchange rate policies. And many of the experts I speak to here in Asia believe that they are.

INSKEEP: Of course, that currency issue affects the value of Chinese products sold in the U.S. as well as American products sold in China. I want to ask about one other thing, Rob Gifford, because President Obama mentioned human rights; a couple of reporters at this press conference mentioned the human rights situation in China. And here, through an interpreter, is what Hu Jintao had to say in response.

INSKEEP: (Through Translator) China is a developing country with a huge population, and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform. In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development. And a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights.

INSKEEP: Such an interesting statement because it begins sounding like he is excusing a poor human rights record, but ends by saying a lot still needs to be done. Does that mean that he wants to do it?

GIFFORD: I think he was speaking much more broadly about things like economic and social rights, which is always the way the Chinese pitch this issue.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Gifford, interpreting the words as well as the silences in the joint press conference of the presidents of the U.S. and China. Rob, thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you, Steve.


INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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