The United States and China opened a new round of high-level economic talks on Tuesday with the leader of China's delegation bluntly saying that any effort to politicize economic differences between the two nations was not acceptable.
The Bush administration was pushing for concrete results to show to an increasingly restive Congress, where lawmakers blame America's soaring trade deficits and the loss of one in six manufacturing jobs since 2000 in part on China's trade practices in such areas as currency manipulation and copyright piracy.
The U.S. delegation also raised the issue of food safety highlighted by such incidents as the deaths of pets that ate pet food made with tainted wheat gluten imported from China.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, who briefed reporters on the discussions, said food safety was raised over breakfast by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt.
"They know this is an issue that concerns us and concerns the American people," said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who said the issue would be addressed more formally in a later session before the talks conclude on Wednesday.
In opening remarks delivered in an ornate government auditorium decked out in flags from both nations, Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi cautioned the United States against pursuing a blame-game.
"We should not easily blame the other side for our own domestic problems," Wu said, speaking through an interpreter. "Confrontation does no good at all to problem-solving."
Wu, who gained a reputation for tough speaking when she was China's top trade negotiator, said that both sides should "firmly oppose trade protectionism." She said that any effort to "politicize" the economic relationship between the two nations would be "absolutely unacceptable."