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Obama meets Chinese envoy ahead of Hu visit

US President Barack Obama met with Beijing's foreign minister ahead of a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao in which a currency dispute was to top a wide-ranging agenda.

US President Barack Obama and his family arrive at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 4, 2011 from Hawaii. Obama met with Beijing's foreign minister ahead of a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao in which a currency dispute was to top a wide-ranging agenda.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was at the White House discussing issues ranging from US-China trade to Iran, North Korea and the upcoming referendum in Sudan with Obama's advisors when the president came into the room.

"The president joined the meeting and reaffirmed his commitment to building a bilateral relationship that is comprehensive in scope, positive in achievement, and cooperative in nature," the White House said.

"The president said he looked forward to the visit of President Hu and to the US and China working together effectively to address global challenges," it said in a statement.

Obama is hosting Hu in the White House on January 19 against the backdrop of a simmering currency dispute that is likely to top an agenda that will include recent tensions on the Korean peninsula and human rights issues.

The White House has signaled it will keep up pressure on Beijing to allow its yuan currency to appreciate. Critics say China keeps the yuan undervalued to gain an unfair trade advantage that has cost thousands of US jobs.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Monday outlined the administration's priorities in a question-and-answer session on the online microblogging service Twitter.

"They must do something abt their currency -- trade, N Korea and rights on agenda," Gibbs wrote in Twitter shorthand.

In November, US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told reporters in Japan that Hu's visit would be a good time to assess "the quantum of progress" on the currency issue.

President Barack Obama met Tuesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, pictured here in 2010, who was in Washington to prepare for an upcoming visit by China's President Hu Jintao, the White House said.

And in recent weeks Chinese authorities appear to have allowed the yuan to gradually appreciate.

The People's Bank of China set the yuan central parity rate -- the middle of the currency's allowed trading band -- at 6.6227 to the dollar Friday, meaning it has appreciated about three percent since June 19.

Obama and Hu last met in Seoul on the fringes of the Group of 20 summit in November and are due to hold talks at the White House and a state dinner during the Chinese president's visit.

But serious divisions between the two largest economies will linger beneath the diplomatic pageantry, including Washington's repeated demands that China rein in its communist ally North Korea.

Tensions soared on the divided peninsula in the wake of Pyongyang's deadly assault on a South Korean border island in November.

The visiting Chinese foreign minister was to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday and had held closed-door talks with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner earlier on Tuesday.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is due to visit China next week, a year after Beijing snapped off military relations with Washington in protest against a multibillion-dollar US arms package for Taiwan.