The United States will press senior Chinese officials this week for action on longstanding trade problems, and may face a rebuke from Beijing over the haphazard way it is managing its finances.
A Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Wang Qishan will be in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday for talks with US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, acting US Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank and US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
"I don't think we should be expecting sweeping changes, but I do think we will see tangible progress on some specific issues," said John Frisbie, president of the US-China Business Council. "China is definitely prioritizing its US relations and they are also discussing economic reforms back at home that could impact some of the issues that matter to US companies.
" Kirk and his colleagues have said they are pushing China to drop restrictions on US livestock and farm products, to take stronger action to stop counterfeiting and piracy of US goods and to reduce pressure on US companies to transfer valuable technology to do business in China.
Wang in turn is expected to convey Beijing's strong interest in a deal in Washington to avoid the $600 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes set to take hold at the start of the year, widely known as the "fiscal cliff.
"Economists warn that failure to avert that outcome could send the United States back in recession, which would threaten growth in China and around the world.
President Barack Obama and Republican leaders have so far made little visible progress toward a deal.
Given that China is the United States' largest creditor, it has a deep interest in Washington's management of its budget.
Chinese officials are also expected to press on a range of other issues - from concerns about US anti-dumping measures on their exports, to restrictions on China's ability to import US high-technology products and the often strong political resistance to Chinese investment in the United States.
The annual US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meeting comes during a transition for both governments.
Obama is expected to bring in a new economic team for his second term.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping took helm of the Chinese Communist party in November and will take over as head of state in March at the annual parliament meeting.
"We're either going to get nothing, meaning just details, or we might get a change," said Derek Scissors, a senior