Vice President Joe Biden said that the United States and China "hold the key" to the global economy Thursday, the first full day of a visit focused as much on a broader relationship between the two global powers as building a personal relationship with its future leaders.
Biden, at the start of a nine-day visit to Asia, said he came with a dual message – that the United States will continue to be "engaged totally" in the world, and that a close partnership with China "is of the utmost importance."
"The economic stability of the world rests in no small part on the cooperation between the United States and China," Biden said before a bilateral meeting with Xi Jingping, China's vice president. "It is the key, in my view, to global economic stability."
The day's focus – in fact the main purpose of the entire trip – was the continuation of an effort to establish a close relationship with Xi, likely China's next president.
Biden said he views foreign policy as more than just formal visits. "It's establishing relationships and trust."
If so, the effort seems off to an auspicious start.
Senior aides spoke in glowing terms about the substance and tenor of talks that took place behind closed doors between the two vice presidents, a meeting that went about 45 minutes beyond schedule.
The discussion covered nearly the full range of bilateral issues, including the economy, trade and human rights, and regional concerns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran.
Though the Chinese have recently offered stern warnings to the United States to get its fiscal house in order after the debt-ceiling crisis, Xi personally "expressed great confidence in the fundamentals of the U.S. economy and also in our prospects going forward," an administration official said.
"In diplomacy 'candid' is usually a euphemism for argument. This is one of the rare instances, perhaps, where candid really means they talked openly, directly, seriously and honestly," another official told reporters at a Thursday afternoon briefing. "Their conversation was strategic. It was forward-looking, and I'd venture to say that even in day one they both came away having learned a lot by virtue of that candor."
Greater personal engagement has been a priority of the Obama administration. Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao have met nine times, officials point out. Biden and Xi will spend more time together in the western city of Chengdu this weekend.
Day 1: Color
- There are some Bidenisms that can't get enough mileage. As Xi introduced the vice president to a member of the Chinese delegation during the formal arrival ceremony, Biden revived one of his favorite lines: "If I had hair like yours I'd be president."
- Biden took a break from his meetings with Chinese government leaders for a downscale lunch in Beijing's Drum Tower district. The family-owned restaurant he visited specializes in intestines, but the VP opted for noodles and pork buns.
- When he later returned to the Great Hall of the People for a session with the chairman of the National People's Congress, Biden couldn't seem to get past the splendor of the Fujian Room where the two delegations met. "This is much nicer than my office," Biden said. "When I was a chairman, I had a much bigger office," he later added, referring to his time leading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I had a big office, and a large staff. And then I became vice president."
Day 2 Schedule
Friday morning, Biden leads a roundtable discussion with U.S. and Chinese business leaders. In the afternoon he holds separate meetings with Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao.