BEIJING >> Buoyed by President Hu Jintao’s successful visit to Washington, China’s relations with the U.S. are warming again after a year of disputes over issues from Taiwan to Internet freedom, China’s foreign minister said Monday.
Yang Jiechi’s comments marked a remarkably upbeat assessment of relations between the world’s No. 1 economy and dominant military power and the rising Asian giant, whose economy overtook Japan’s last year to claim the No. 2 spot.
The sides need to "seize on the momentum, build on the progress, earnestly implement the agreement reached by the leaders of the two countries and take solid steps in building the China-U.S. cooperative partnership," Yang said.
In a wide-ranging news conference on the sidelines of China’s annual legislative session, Yang also pointed to deepening relations with Russia, investment and assistance to African nations, and stronger ties to multinational groupings such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
However, his comments on U.S. ties were among his most emphatic, possibly lending hope to negotiators seeking progress on disputes over China’s massive trade surplus with the U.S. and accusations that it keeps its currency artificially low to boost exports.
"There is now a good atmosphere in China-U.S. relations," Yang said. "We have a full agenda in developing China-U.S. relations in the coming months."
Relations have been on the upswing since Hu’s state visit in January that was widely hailed as a success. Hu received a much-coveted state banquet and formal White House welcome and the two sides managed to avoid the missteps that plagued Hu’s last visit in 2006.
Yang said U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden is scheduled to visit China this summer, followed by a trip to Washington by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
A series of high-level meetings on trade and diplomatic ties offer further chances to boost the relationship, he said.
Yang also acknowledged lingering frictions, reiterating China’s strong opposition to arms sales to Taiwan and urging the U.S. to lend more support to a warming trend in relations between Beijing and Taipei.
The positive climate couldn’t be more different than this time last year when China suspended military-to-military exchanges and bitterly criticized Washington over a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory.
Further disputes followed over a visit to the White House by Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama, regarded by China as a separatist intent on overthrowing Chinese rule over the Himalayan region.
Google’s decision to stop censoring its search results inside China and U.S. criticism of China’s Internet controls also heightened the tensions. Beijing has lashed out at U.S. involvement in South China Sea territorial disputes and joint war games with South Korea in the Yellow Sea.
China’s relations with neighbors Japan, South Korea, and the Southeast Asian nations also have suffered in recent months, partly as a result of Beijing’s more aggressive assertions of its territorial claims and support for North Korea’s hard-line communist leadership.
Yang said China would devote greater attention to those relationships in the coming months, although he asserted Japan was responsible for tensions over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that Tokyo controls but Beijing claims.
China’s assertive behavior — it sent navy vessels and military aircraft closer to Japanese territory last year than ever before — and soaring economy magnifies the perceived threat from its growing defense spending, which is to rise 12.7 percent this year to $91.5 billion.
However, Yang suggested that some foreign doubts about China’s intentions were born of envy over Beijing’s successes in pulling millions out of poverty, weathering the global financial crisis, and managing an economy that grew by 10.3 percent last year.
"What I feel is that actually in some countries, including in some developed countries, people have much on their minds," Yang said. "People ask themselves: What is the secret of China in making all these accomplishments?"