China's Vice President Xi Jipeng received a polite welcome from US lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday despite smoldering resentment over Beijing's trade practices, human rights and geopolitical intentions.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid smiled and shook hands with Xi at the start of a meeting with top senators, but there were none of the usual pleasantries before journalists were ushered out of the room.
China's heir apparent Xi Jinping waves as arrives to meet US lawmakers. He told US business leaders that the time was ripe for a "new historical starting point" for relations between the two trade powers.
Xi, who is due to become China's president next year, later crossed the Capitol to meet with House Speaker John Boehner and other leaders.
The Chinese heir apparent's foray into the seat of US politics comes amid flaring suspicion of China on both sides of the aisle, fanned in part by a hesitant US economic recovery and election year passions.
Unfair trade practices, the cheap yuan, industrial espionage, forced technology transfers, as well as the broader issues related to China's rapid military modernization and stances on crises like Syria, crowd the US list of concerns.
Xi was expected to explain China's view of things in a speech in Washington after his meetings on Capitol Hill.
"We want to work with China to make sure that everybody is working by the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system," President Barack Obama said Tuesday at the White House as Xi looked on.
"That includes ensuring that there is a balanced trading flow not only between the United States and China but around the world," Obama said.
The US press in recent days has highlighted dramatic cases of alleged cyberespionage originating from China and targeting Western industries.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts intended to raise with the Chinese the case of a Massachusetts wind energy company, American Superconductor Corporation, whose Chinese partner allegedly stole key technology.
The Wall Street Journal this week disclosed that hackers believed to be based in China penetrated a now bankrupt Canadian telecommunications company, Nortel, and had access to its entire system for at least a decade.
Political sentiment has risen so high in Congress that the Senate last October passed a measure threatening retaliatory duties against China for alleged manipulating its currency, infuriating Beijing.
Boehner stepped in and blocked the measure in House, citing the risk of a "trade war" if it passed, a reflection of the countervailing view that US and Chinese economic interests are too intricately intertwined to jeopardize.
But Republican presidential candidates like Mitt Romney have been unsparing in their attacks on China, raising the temperature in relations.
So has China's recent UN veto of a resolution condemning the violence in Syria, and its reluctance to support sanctions against Iran, a major oil supplier to Beijing.
The UN Security Council is "a highly authoritative international body, so whatever actions it takes, the actions should be taken in a most prudent and responsible manner," Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, who is accompanying Xi on his US visit, told reporters late Tuesday.
He added that "all people are calling for an immediate end to the bloodshed in Syria. Yet if the Security Council takes one wrong step, it is likely to lead to more bloodshed instead of putting a stop to the bloodshed."
After his immersion in Washington politics, Xi heads later in the day to friendlier ground in Iowa. The farming state counts on China as a rapidly growing market for its pork, soybeans and other produce.
Cui said the two sides have agreed to meet on Asia-Pacific issues in March and had a "principled agreement" to hold a fourth strategic and economic dialogue in China in May.
In Iowa, Xi will attend a formal reception in the state capital Des Moines.