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U.S., Chinese Presidents Pledge Closer Ties 'At All Levels'

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) meets and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao pledged to increase cooperation.
(RFE/RL) -- Serious diplomacy prevailed during U.S. President Barack Obama's meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on April 1 ahead of the Group of 20 (G20) summit in London.

The White House announced in a statement that Obama and Hu had decided to establish a new "U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue."

Under that plan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner would meet once a year for talks with senior Chinese officials Dai Bingguo and Wang Qishan. The first round of their dialogue would be in Washington, D.C. during the summer. Obama also has accepted an invitation from Hu to visit China during the second half of this year.

The London talks marked the first time the two leaders have met face-to-face. Striking a formal working tone with the Chinese president, Obama told reporters that both sides already have begun to strengthen relations.

"The relationship between the United States and China has become extremely constructive. Our economic relationships are very strong," Obama said.

"And I've said publicly and I will continue to believe that the relationship between China and the United States is not only important for the citizens of both our countries, but will help to set the stage for how the world deals with a whole host of challenges in the years to come."

U.S. officials say Washington hopes to work with China on everything from the issue of climate change to dealing with Iran, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. China has blamed the United States for protectionist measures. It wants to use the G20 summit to rebalance the world economy more in favor of emerging markets.

After meeting with Hu, Obama pledged to support global trade and investment flows and work to resist protectionism.

For his part, Hu said he is confident that U.S.-Chinese relations have been redefined by the April 1 meeting. He said the two countries would work together more closely to renew world economic growth and to strengthen the global financial system. He said the two leaders also have vowed to expand consultations on nuclear nonproliferation and other international security issues.

"In addition, the two sides also reached an agreement on the characterization of the China-U.S. relationship in this new era and on the mechanism of the strategic [and] economic dialogues," Hu added.

Just 'Empty Talk'?

World Bank President Robert Zoellick has urged China and the United States to work together more closely to bring the world economy out of recession, saying their cooperation could help mend divisions that have been forming between leading and emerging economies.

Western business leaders quickly welcomed news of a new U.S.-China dialogue. U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief Thomas Donahue said it would be "a critical forum" to forge common solutions that can return the global economy to prosperity and address shared geopolitical challenges.

But Derek Scissors, an expert on China at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, has doubts about the new mechanism for dialogue. Scissors says unless the initiative yields results, it will be another venue for "empty talk."

Scissors says he doubts that the new dialogue would impact the global economic crisis. He says that's because China is unfairly maintaining a huge trade surplus rather than working with the United States.

Ralph Cossa, head of the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also cautions against elevating the importance of the new U.S.-China dialogue.

Cossa says no global economic problem can be solved without cooperation of both China and the United States. But Cossa also says resolving the global crisis will take more than cooperation from just the United States and China. He says Japan and the European Union cannot be ignored.

compiled from agency reports