Beijing seeks better communication with Washington

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing hoped for better communication with Washington as he met Tuesday with a senior U.S. official amid recent tensions over trade, China's military buildup and its human rights record. "We hope to improve the bilateral strategic dialogue in order to further improve mutual understanding and mutual trust," Wen told visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

Zoellick, who arrived in Beijing late Monday, also met with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo during his whirlwind one-day stay in the capital. Zoellick said that Chinese President Hu Jintao would pay a visit to the United States in April, but did not give any more details on his itinerary.

Hu's "visit will be a big event for the two countries and will be very important to furthering the strategic partnership between China and the U.S.," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said at a regular press briefing Tuesday.

Hu had intended to visit the U.S. in September last year, but postponed the official trip after Hurricane Katrina battered America's Gulf states. It would have been his first official visit to the United States since becoming president in 2003.

He instead had a private meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in New York, where they both attended ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the United Nations. Kong, who did not give any details on when Hu would leave, said the two sides would make "honest efforts" to prepare for the visit.

Washington's relationship with China has been strained of late due to concern over Beijing's growing military prowess, political and religious freedoms in the country, and China's growing trade surplus with the United States.

Last month, Zoellick met with Dai in Washington to discuss a number of issues including trade, North Korea's nuclear program, bird flu and Taiwan. Both sides agreed after two days of talks that while they don't always follow the same policies, they can cooperate on policy goals important to both countries.

During their meeting Tuesday, Dai and Zoellick agreed that the relationship between Washington and Beijing was making steady progress, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Chinese officials privy to the talks.

During a press briefing late Tuesday, Zoellick told reporters he had touched upon a broad range of bilateral and international issues with Chinese officials, including "economics, security, reform issues and openness in China." He stressed China's role as a "stakeholder" in the new economy and global community.

He also held meetings with Chinese and American non-governmental groups working on developing the rule of law in China, he said, but gave no details.

During a meeting with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, Zoellick wished his Chinese hosts a happy New Year, and spent several amiable minutes with Li discussing the merits of being born in the Year of the Dog, which begins Jan. 29.

His visit will also take him to the southwestern city of Chengdu on Wednesday, where he will visit a panda research center and talk to local officials. He leaves China for Switzerland on Wednesday where he will attend the World Economic Forum, reports the AP. N.U.