WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will meet Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the country's likely next ruler, at the White House on February 14, the White House said on Monday.
Obama and Xi will discuss "a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues," it said in a statement, but gave no further details on a trip experts say will help set the tone in U.S.-China ties for coming years.
The two powers have delicate issues to work through, ranging from currency policy to differences over how to halt the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, to a recent Chinese crackdown on critics and activists that has drawn U.S. criticism.
Beijing has voiced misgivings about Obama's plans to beef up the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and remains unhappy about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China calls an illegitimate breakaway province.
China, Iran's biggest oil customer, also bristles at U.S. efforts to tighten sanctions on that country in order to halt Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Beijing recently rebuffed a U.S. official's call to cut back oil purchases from Iran.
While the United States is in an election year that has seen Republican candidates fire harsh campaign rhetoric at China, Beijing will later this year begin a power transfer that will see Xi and other younger officials take over as President Hu Jintao and his generation of leaders retire.
Obama, facing a tough re-election in November, is expected to renew his call for China to allow its yuan currency to appreciate during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, as he highlights U.S. exports among his proposals to boost jobs.
In an interview published in Time magazine last week, Obama said U.S.-China friction arose because China "sees itself as a developing or even poor country that should be able to pursue mercantilist policies that are for their benefit and where the rules applying to them shouldn't be the same rules that apply to the United States or Europe or other major powers."
In a speech last week in Beijing, Xi stressed Beijing's desire for steady relations and tried to set an upbeat tone for his visit.
"In dealing with major and sensitive issues that concern each side's core interests, we must certainly abide by a spirit of mutual respect and handle them prudently, and by no means can we let relations again suffer major interference and ructions," he said.
In August Xi hosted U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on a visit that gave Washington policymakers a chance to size up China's president-in-waiting.
Biden will host Xi in Washington, but analysts said the trip is of far greater consequence than their titles suggest.
"The man Biden's hosting, barring something no-one forsees at this point, will become the head of China, head of the Communist Party, head of the government and head of the military," said China expert Kenneth Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"This is really a chance for the Obama administration to look forward to the succession and post-succession period in China and begin to establish critical personal relationships and a personal comfort level back and forth," he said.
Xi, who will be in the United States for several days, is also set to travel to Iowa and California, two states keen to boost already fast-growing trade with China and to court Chinese investment. The dates have not formally been announced for the rest of the trip.
Xi's first known visit to the United States was to Iowa in 1985 as a junior official in the northern province of Hebei, which has a sister state/province relationship with Iowa.
"The strong relationship Iowa has with the incoming leader of China has economic benefits that are beyond measure," said Governor Terry Branstad.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for Iowa, and we will make the most of our time with Vice President Xi," he said.
Iowa's exports to China -- mostly farm goods, machinery and processed food -- rose 1,293 percent from in the decade to 2010, when the state sold $627 million of goods to China, according the U.S.-China Business Council.
(Reporting By Alister Bull; Editing by Xavier Briand and Sandra Maler)