China is ready to discuss its currency controls at talks in Washington next week, a Chinese official said Friday, but he gave no sign Beijing will act on U.S. pressure to speed the rise of its yuan.
U.S. officials say they plan to raise currency at annual talks Monday and Tuesday and also press Beijing to open its market for financial services. American officials say the yuan is undervalued, swelling China's trade surplus and hurting foreign competitors at a time when the United States and other countries are trying to create jobs.
Currency policy is a "sovereign right" but Beijing is ready to "intensify communications" with Washington, said a deputy Chinese finance minister, Zhu Guangyao, at a news conference.
Zhu gave no indication Beijing might speed up the yuan's rise, which U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a speech this week is too slow. The yuan, which is also known as the renminbi, has gained about 5 percent against the dollar since Beijing promised more flexibility last June, but American manufacturers and others say it still is undervalued by up to 40 percent.
"We will push forward the reform of the renminbi exchange rate regime. And in terms of direction, China and the United States have the same understanding," Zhu said. However, he said, "We have some differences on specific issues."
The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, begun in 2006, is meant to defuse trade tensions and improve cooperation between the world's two largest economies on energy, the environment and other issues.
Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will head the U.S. delegation next week. Beijing's delegation is led by Vice Premier Wang Qishan, a top economic policy official, and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, a veteran diplomat.
This year, the talks also are to include discussion of strategic issues by military and diplomatic officials.
Beijing is ready to discuss human rights but wants Washington to pay more attention to improvements in China, another Chinese official said. That comes amid China's biggest security crackdown in years, apparently prompted by the communist leadership's fear of Middle East-inspired unrest migrating to China's cities, where anonymous online appeals for protest gatherings have so far gone unheeded.
"On the human rights issue, we are willing to have an exchange of views with the United States and have a dialogue on the basis of mutual respect," said Cui Tiankai, a deputy foreign minister who joined Zhu at the news conference.
The most high-profile person targeted by Chinese authorities so far is famed artist and outspoken government critic Ai Weiwei.
"I think it is advisable for the United States to pay more attention to the development of China in terms of human rights rather than being preoccupied with individual cases or issues that violate China's legal system and laws," Cui said.
Also Friday, the wife of a Chinese civil rights lawyer said he returned home after disappearing for two days amid the crackdown in which hundreds have been detained, confined at home, interrogated or simply vanished.
Li Xiongbing went missing Wednesday after telling his wife over the phone that he would be away for a few days and not to worry if he could not be reached. Wu Haiying said her husband returned Friday morning but she was unable to say where he had been.
"All I am able to say is that he has come home," Wu said.
Li has handled a wide range of politically sensitive cases, defending practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group, victims of the 2008 tainted milk scandal, ethnic minorities, and people facing discrimination because of HIV or AIDS.
Other rights lawyers who have vanished for days, weeks or months at a time since the start of the year include Jiang Tianyong, Teng Biao and Li Fangping.
Though none were previously press-shy, all have come back refusing to speak to the media, suggesting possible intimidation by authorities.
Meanwhile, a veteran labor rights activist was released from prison Thursday after serving a 10-year sentence for inciting subversion, a Hong Kong rights advocacy group said.
Li Wangyang, an advocate for independent labor unions in southern China's Hunan province, returned to his hometown of Shaoyang, said a statement from Human Rights in China.