China-US 'mutual interests beat differences', says Premier Li

CHINA - Economic ties are a "ballast" for overall China-US relations, Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday, despite recent maritime tensions between the two navies.

The premier hoped the countries, the world's largest economies, can properly handle differences, respect each other's core interests and major concerns, and look at the bigger picture and long-term perspective.

Mutual interests have outweighed differences since diplomatic relations resumed 35 years ago, Li said.

"We should seize the opportunity, explore the potential for cooperation and promote a healthy and stable Sino-US relationship," he said as he met the US delegation for the 24th Session of the China-US Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Beijing on Thursday.

His remarks came after a recent incident at sea.

Media reported the US missile cruiser Cowpens broke into the Chinese navy's drilling waters in the South China Sea on Dec 5, despite warnings from China's aircraft carrier task group, and the US cruiser almost collided with a Chinese warship nearby.

China's Defence Ministry said it has had effective communication with its US counterparts about the near miss, while US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said that the incident will not influence Sino-US ties.

At Thursday's meeting, Li said he looks forward to a "pragmatic and candid" talk.

"Bilateral trade was barely several billion dollars 30 years ago, but today the trade volume stands at around several hundred billion dollars. The number has exceeded the expectations of many people," Li said.

Sino-US trade hit US$472 billion (S$598 billion) from January to November.

He also said he hopes the US relaxes its restriction on high-tech exports to China and creates favourable conditions for Chinese investors.

Chinese officials and companies have long complained about the US barring Chinese companies such as telecom giant Huawei Technologies from signing deals in the US on grounds of national security.

US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who led the US delegation, said she agrees that a strong economic relationship between the US and China is of vital importance to both countries.

A positive and successful session will help strengthen the economic relationship, she said, and the meeting has demonstrated its capability to resolve many key issues.

The China-US Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade was launched in 1983 as a platform for the countries to promote trade and address issues of mutual concern.

This year, the formal discussion will begin on Friday after a closed-door talk on Thursday, and they are expected to reach agreements in commerce, agriculture and other fields.

Zhou Shijian, a senior trade researcher at the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University, said the session has attracted more attention as the US Federal Reserve has announced a scaling down of its bond buying, which may weaken China's exports and lead to capital outflow.

He said overall ties won't be affected by the military tension, as both countries were trying to play down the negative effects of the near-miss.

He said the countries have brought their issues to the negotiation table, and he believes they will exchange views in a "deep and candid" way.

"But I doubt if the meeting could thoroughly resolve these issue at once, especially high-tech export restrictions," he said.

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