US Vice President Joe Biden witnessed China’s economic awakening first-hand yesterday with a visit to the boom town of Chengdu, as an apparent crackdown on dissent accompanied his visit.
Biden headed southwest to the manufacturing hub after talks in Beijing during which leaders of the world’s second-largest economy expressed confidence in the ability of the US to overcome its present fiscal difficulties.
Human rights activists said authorities were carrying out a heavy-handed clampdown on dissenting voices coinciding with Biden’s trip.
In Chengdu, a city of 14 million people, the US vice president was to share an informal meal with his counterpart Xi Jinping (習近平) — who is slated to become China’s paramount leader next year — and address students at Sichuan University.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province, where nearly 200 of the Fortune 500 largest firms in the world have invested.
He was to also witness reconstruction efforts following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which left more than 87,000 people dead or missing.
In a Friday meeting with Biden, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) expressed confidence in the US economy after the historic downgrade of the US’ top-notch credit rating by Standard & Poor’s earlier this month.
China is the largest foreign holder of US debt and Biden has used his first official visit to the country since becoming vice president to reassure its leaders their massive investment remains safe.
China and the US have signed deals worth nearly US$1 billion during Biden’s trip, according to a US official who requested anonymity.
The Chinese leadership has also pledged to work with Washington to bolster global economic recovery, despite signs the US is facing a deepening recession and as Europe scrambles to overcome a debilitating debt crisis.
Biden’s visit is also aimed partly at building ties with Xi, who remains virtually unknown in US policy circles.
It comes amid growing concern in the US about China’s rights record.
Washington this week appealed to Beijing to free rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), who has not been heard of since last year.
However, police have stepped up surveillance on dissidents and warned them against making any high profile protests or attempting to meet Biden during his five-day visit, rights activists said.
Biden did raise human rights concerns during his meetings with Chinese leaders, US officials said, but they refused to go into details of whether any individual cases were brought up.