WASHINGTON >> Chinese President Hu Jintao sought to assure U.S. business leaders on Thursday that his country is an economic partner and not a military threat to America or anyone else. But he rejected foreign interference on issues such as Tibet and Taiwan.
"We will remain committed to the path of peaceful development," Hu told a U.S.-China Business Council luncheon. "We do not engage in an arms race, we are not a military threat to any country. China will never seek to dominate or pursue an expansionist policy."
Hu said China intended to "develop a socialist democracy and build a socialist country under the rule of law."
His luncheon comments, the final event on his state visit to Washington, followed closed-door sessions with members of Congress, where he drew criticism for his country’s human rights and other policies.
President Barack Obama had expressed similar human rights concerns a day earlier at the White House.
Thursday’s midday session, attended by business executives whose companies have dealings within China, provided a far friendlier audience than Hu had found at the Capitol.
He touched on some of the issues that have sharply divided the United States and China, declaring that the two countries must deal with each other as equals "based on mutual respect and mutual benefits."
"Taiwan and Tibet-related issues concern Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity," Hu said. "They touch upon the national sentiments of 1.3 billion Chinese." It was a reference to China’s claim to the currently self-governing island of Taiwan, which split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949, and to Tibet, which is already under China’s control. U.S. leaders, including Obama, have irked China repeatedly by meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Hu said that recovery from the worst economic downturn in generations was slow and difficult, and he called on the U.S. to work with China to help promote "a full recovery of the world economy."
Earlier, on Capitol Hill, he met separately with House and Senate leaders. Although the meetings were private, some lawmakers who attended said the members of Congress complained about allegations of human rights abuses in China and business practices of the communist government.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said participants at the House meeting "raised our strong, ongoing concerns with reports of human rights violations in China, including the denial of religious freedom and the use of coercive abortion" as a result of China’s one-child policy.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she gave Hu a copy of a letter she sent to Obama highlighting "grave concerns" over human rights, currency manipulation and aggressive gestures.
"Out of all the issues I raise, the only one which received a response from Mr.Hu was my statement urging the end of China’s forced abortion policy. I was astonished when he insisted that such a policy does not exist," she said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he raised "the issues of trade, Chinese currency and the importance of increasing Chinese investment and tourism in Nevada and across America."
"Although we have our differences, we look forward to strengthening our relationship in a way that allows us to address global economic and security issues."
On Wednesday, Hu had spent much of the day in meetings at the White House before a state dinner there. Obama, too, pressed Hu on the rights issue but said the United States should not fear China’s rise. Obama announced job-creating business deals with the Asian giant worth billions of dollars to companies.
At Thursday’s luncheon, Hu told the business audience that while the world was returning to growth, there remain many "unstabilizing factors" and that full recovery will be a difficult process.
China and the United States are vastly different countries with distinct cultures and traditions, he said. "It’s only normal we have some differences."
The Chinese leader was introduced by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who as an envoy for President Richard Nixon was instrumental in opening formal ties between the two countries in 1974.
Kissinger said normalizing U.S.-Chinese relations "after so many years of separation did shake the world."
Now, Kissinger said, "we are working to build a world, not shake it."
Hu was headed next to Chicago, where he was to dine with retiring Mayor Richard Daley, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and business leaders Thursday evening. He will also visit a Chinese language and cultural center at a high school and a Chinese auto parts producer during his two-day visit.