Senior White House officials on Tuesday emphasized that despite a slate of concerns with Chinese policies, the administration will continue to pursue a strategy of engagement in advance of President Xi Jinping’s state visit this week.
“Denying ourselves engagement with the Chinese would deny ourselves the ability to advance our interests and to make clear to China where we stand,” Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told reporters.
Officials said the U.S.’s commitment to dialogue with the Chinese government should not be mistaken for a soft approach to a series of high-profile complaints, including persistent Chinese hacking, prejudicial economic and trade policies and human rights concerns.
“We won’t paper over those differences,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes was particularly emphatic in his remarks on how the administration will approach human rights concerns during the visit, noting he anticipated that President Obama would press Xi on the issue.
“Human rights goes beyond a ‘difference,’ ” Rhodes said. “This isn’t a policy difference, like we’d have on a trade irritant. We believe that people should have the right to speak freely, and we are going to be very clear about that.”
Rhodes also addressed ongoing speculation that the administration will try to reach a formal agreement with China over ongoing hacks on American interests, suggesting “we’ll have to see what kind of discussion the leaders have.”
He said the administration will push for China to cut down on the theft of intellectual property and other trade secrets from U.S. companies competing there.
“We want to make very clear that this puts at risk China’s ability to continue on its economic growth if businesses don’t have confidence that they’re not going to be subjected to cyber theft,” Rhodes said.
China has a vested interest in taking a cooperative stance with the United States, both during Xi’s visit and going forward, officials said, if it wants to continue to benefit from being part of the global economy.
“China needs to be mindful that its activities don’t undermine its standing in the United States,” Rhodes said. “Part of our message is, if you are not taking steps to address some of these concerns as relates to particular trade irritants or cyber activities, you risk eroding the support for the US.-China relationship that comes from the business community and you risk inviting responses from Congress.”
Xi arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday. He is scheduled to travel to Washington on Wednesday.