SEATTLE (AFP) - China's president on Tuesday called for less "suspicion" in ties between the world's top two economies, ahead of landmark talks later this week with US President Barack Obama.
Xi Jinping's comments, at a keynote speech in the commercial hub of Seattle, came as US aerospace giant Boeing reportedly clinched a deal with Chinese firms to sell 300 aircraft.
"We want to see more understanding and trust and less estrangement and suspicion," said Xi, whose country has seen somewhat strained ties with the United States on several issues.
"Conflict and confrontation" between the two powers "would lead to disaster for both countries and the world at large," stressed Xi.
Ahead of talks with the Obama administration later this week on hot-button issues like China's expanding presence in the South China Sea, cyber theft and human rights, Xi sought to convince an audience of mostly businessmen and US state officials that China was a positive force in the global economy and was pushing forward with reforms based on rule of law and market principles.
China's foreign policy priority was to build what he described as a "new model" of relationship with Washington based on "non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual respect and willing cooperation," said the president.
"We must read each other's strategic intentions correctly."
- 'Legitimate concerns'
Xi vowed to treat US investors in China fairly and fight against commercial cyber theft, a growing complaint against China by American businesses.
"We respect the international business norms of non-discrimination," he told an audience that included the chief executives of some of the largest US businesses, including Boeing, Amazon, DuPont, IBM and Microsoft, all of whom have substantial business in China.
"We will address legitimate concerns of foreign investors in a timely fashion." On the hacking issue, he said China itself is a victim and was ready to set up a "high-level" mechanism with the United States to discuss the problem.
"The Chinese government will not in whatever form engage in commercial theft or encourage or support such attempts by anyone." At the same time, he suggested that US threats to sanction Chinese officials over the alleged hacking were out of line, saying cyber theft was a crime that had to be prosecuted "in accordance with law."
- Economy under 'general pressure'
He also stressed that China's economic downturn was temporary and that the government was on top of recent market turmoil.
"At present all economies are facing difficulties and our economy is also under general pressure," Xi said.
"China's stock market has reached the phase of self-recovery and self-adjustment," he said.
Xi is spending two days in Seattle meeting with the governors of US states with substantial trade and investment ties to China, and the businesses themselves, sending a message to the White House that US companies need China.
On Wednesday he will visit Microsoft's huge campus and Boeing's huge assembly facility, following reports of the deal for 300 aircraft and a "completion center" in China for the firm's narrow-body 737 airliners.
- 'No 'House of Cards"
Xi was introduced by legendary US diplomat Henry Kissinger, who made the first secretive effort in 1971 to restore long-broken relations with China and who praised Xi as the man able to take the relationship to a new level.
The Chinese leader charmed his audience with quotes from Martin Luther King, recollections of former visits to Seattle and knowing references to popular US culture, including the romance comedy "Sleepless in Seattle."
Defending his government's crackdown on corruption, he quipped: "This has nothing to do with power struggle. This is no 'House of Cards'."
But he also took pains to remind Washington that China has been a responsible partner and team player in dealing with crises from Ebola to North Korea's nuclear threat to global warming, as well as acting to support the world economy in the 2008 financial crisis.
And, following on from his comments on his government's anti-corruption fight, he pointed a direct finger at the US government's allowing Chinese wanted for corruption to hide in the United States.
He called for Washington's cooperation "so that corrupt elements will be denied an overseas safe haven."
He also responded to criticisms that China's tough new security law will effectively outlaw foreign non-governmental organizations, saying the country welcomed and would protect those whose activities "are beneficial to the Chinese people."
But Xi also stressed they had to obey Chinese law: "On their part, foreign NGOs in China need to obey Chinese law and carry out activities in accordance with the law."
White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice met Tuesday with several representatives from among the universities, businesses and rights groups that would be forced to register and report to the Chinese security services if the draft law enters into force.
"Today's discussion focused on concerns that the draft legislation would further narrow space for civil society in China," the White House said in a statement that came hours after the Chinese leader landed in the United States.