ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:
Only days after calling Chinese President Hu Jintao “a dictator” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met with the Chinese leader Thursday on Capitol Hill.
The two men smiled for the cameras, but made no comments, despite questions shouted by reporters, including one lobbed at Reid asking him what he hoped to accomplish during the meeting.
Afterwards, Reid released a statement saying that the meeting had been “productive.”
“I was pleased to welcome President Hu to our country and share a productive meeting,” Reid said. “The relationship between our countries is important and we share deep economic ties. Today I raised the issues of trade, Chinese currency and the importance of increasing Chinese investment and tourism in Nevada and across America. We discussed how we have found common ground in Nevada on our shared interest in renewable energy projects.”
“The issues of human rights, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Taiwan and U.S.-China military relations were also raised today,” he said. “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.”
In an interview with Las Vegas journalist Jon Ralston taped earlier in the week, Reid had dubbed Hu “a dictator” before quickly retracting the comment.
“I am going to go back to Washington tomorrow and meet with the President of China. He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have,” Reid said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said dictator, but they have a different type of government than we have and that is an understatement.”
A handful of other key senators also attended the Thursday morning meeting in the Capitol. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel Dick Lugar, and the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee John McCain also met with Hu.
Kerry acknowledged that at times the last year had been “a challenging one in US-China relations.”
“Despite the shared gains achieved working together on global problems, many in Congress today believe the United States and China are on a collision course,” Kerry said. “It’s critical that leaders in both countries don’t allow mutual suspicions to degenerate into fear-mongering and demagoguery. Make no mistake, getting this vital and complex relationship right doesn’t mean papering over significant differences, including on human rights, Taiwan, and trade, but we should not allow our disagreements to define our relations.”
One of those disagreements deals with frustration on the Hill that China manipulates its currency in an effort to sell its exports for less, a move that in turn hurts US workers. Despite pressure from Congress, the Obama administration has yet to officially brand China a currency manipulator. China is the largest foreign holder of US government debt.
Earlier this week Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and other Democrats renewed a push to crack down on China for currency manipulation, arguing that the yuan is undervalued by 25 to 40 percent.
“China’s currency manipulation is like a boot on the throat of our economic recovery,” Schumer said in unveiling his bill. “We are sending a clear message to the Chinese government: if you refuse to play by the same rules as everyone else, we will force you to.”
After today’s meeting Kerry said the currency issue “remains a concern.”
“Congress is growing increasingly impatient, and absent sustained progress, will likely take matters into its own hands in the coming months,” Kerry warned.
McCain, the top GOP lawmaker on the Armed Services panel, posted a note on twitter about the meeting with Hu.
“Respectful meeting w/ Pres Hu-discussed the importance of human rights, Reagan's advocacy for human rights during the Cold War & North Korea,” McCain said.
Hu also met with House leaders including new Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. A photo of that meeting can be viewed here.
After the meeting, Boehner said when it comes to China it is “important to resolve our differences in ways that benefit both of our countries and our people.”
“We 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 consequence of the ‘one child’ policy,” Boehner added. “When it comes to guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of all her citizens, including and especially the unborn, Chinese leaders have a responsibility to do better, and the United States has a responsibility to hold them to account.”
Neither Boehner nor Reid nor top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell attended last night’s state dinner at the White House.