BEIJING (AP) -- China will lead a delegation of companies to the U.S. to look for investment opportunities as the next round of an economic dialogue begins, Chinese officials said Friday.
A new set of Chinese trade negotiators will take over dialogue with the U.S. at the fourth round of the Sino-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue, being held June 17-18 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The Chinese team will be led by Vice Premier Wang Qishan, who took over in March from the well-respected and long-serving Wu Yi.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is returning as head of the U.S. delegation. Paulson launched the process in 2006 to address trade tensions and deflect pressure from U.S. critics for punitive action over Beijing's huge trade surplus and currency controls.
The delegation of Chinese companies will tour the U.S. in conjunction with the dialogue to look for trade and investment opportunities, said He Ning, director general for U.S. and Oceania affairs at the Ministry of Commerce.
''We hope this delegation can bring back some orders,'' He said at a briefing for reporters. He didn't identify any of the companies or their industries.
Chinese companies have invested only $550 million in the United States, while U.S. companies have invested a total of $22 billion into China, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
He said investments from China were slowed by Washington's ''cautious'' attitude on mergers and acquisitions by Chinese firms. Bilateral trade was also hindered by U.S. government restrictions on the export of high-tech items to China, He said. The U.S. restricts the export of high-tech items that could have both a civilian and military use.
Nonetheless, China overtook Japan last year to become the third largest export market for the U.S.
''This change shows amply the efforts the Chinese side has made to ease the trade surplus with the U.S.,'' He said.
Congressional unhappiness with China's trade practices has grown as the U.S. trade deficit with the country has soared. Last year, the deficit climbed to $256.3 billion, the highest imbalance ever recorded with a single country. Many in the U.S. argue China keeps its currency, the yuan, artificially weak in order to promote cheap exports.
Assistant Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said relaxing controls over the value of the yuan was in China's own interest, but that China would allow the yuan to rise in a gradual and highly controlled manner.
''In order to sustain China's economy, we inevitably need to accelerate the reform of RMB's exchange rate regime,'' he said, referring to currency by the initials of its other name, the renminbi, or ''people's money.''
The Chinese government contends it is moving as quickly as it can to revalue the yuan, which has risen by a little over 19 percent against the dollar since the Chinese revamped their currency system in July 2005.
A 10-year cooperation agreement on energy and the environment will also be signed at the meeting, Chinese officials said. The agreement would encourage technological innovation to address climate change and industrial pollution.