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U.S. and Chinese officials prepare for talks

Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng (L) speaks with U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (R) during a business roundtable at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., Feb. 14, 2012. Geithner is in Beijing this week to talk economics and security.

Kai Ryssdal: The American secretaries of state and treasury are in Beijing today, getting ready for talks Thursday on the state of the Sino-American economic and security relationship. These talks happen every year. Tends to be boring.

Not so in 2012. The escape from house arrest of the blind activist Chen Guangcheng and reports that he's now under American protection has thrown a sizeable wrench in the diplomatic works. Whether that muddies the economic waters remains to be seen.

From Washington, Marketplace's Scott Tong reports.


Scott Tong: To Dali Yang at the University of Chicago, the blind lawyer’s great escape is just an irritant. The U.S. and China are handling it quietly, so it doesn’t undo four years of trade talks.

Dali Yang: Of course it can be blown up as a big issue if neither side is willing to compromise. I see the restraint exercised by both sides is a welcome sign.

How China deals with the activist could be a test for its economy. China Inc. wants to graduate from making cheap junk and pouring concrete to an economy of consumption, services, technology.

But Cheng Li at the Brookings Institution says you can’t have IT without the I. Chinese Internet police now block searches for terms like “blind man,” “American embassy,” and “Shawshank Redemption.”

Cheng Li: We now talk of a new economy, or information revolution. With this kind of media censorship, you could not have this kind of openness.

Secretaries Clinton and Geithner will push openness and human rights. Li says both are key to a stable economic and investment climate. The U.S. will also push China to open its banking system to foreign competition. For its part, China will moan about America’s shaky balance sheet.

But an old faithful –- China’s undervalued currency –- may no longer gush. Here’s William Cline at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

William Cline: The Chinese currency has risen quite sharply. On a trade weighted basis it’s come up about 30 percent.

Don’t expect anything big this week. China’s about to bring in new leaders, and we hold an election. So some of this is economic seat-warming.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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