The two men stuck resolutely to diplomatic niceties in front of the watching media ahead of what was, for both, their first major international meeting since taking their respective offices.

A U.S. official said in an e-mailed statement that the meeting itself was a 45-minute strategic level discussion of the major issues on the bilateral agenda including currencies, Europe and the global economy, intellectual property, cyber-security and North Korea, in which Lew was “candid and direct.”

China’s official Xinhua news agency in a commentary – which are not policy statements but typically reflect government thinking – said Lew should use his visit to convince Beijing that Washington would solve its debt problems, stabilize the value of the dollar and honor trade treaty commitments.

“The stakes are high,” the commentary said, striking a more hawkish tone than Xi.

“I can say we have a seamless connection,” China’s new president said, speaking in front of a tapestry depicting a pine tree and flying cranes, both symbols of hospitality.

“In the China-U.S. relationship we have enormous shared interests, but of course unavoidably we have some differences.”

Lew said both countries had a responsibility to promote global growth, and called on China to boost domestic demand to help in global rebalancing.

“The (U.S.) president is firmly committed to building a relationship of growing strength where we cooperate on issues of economic and strategic importance, understanding that we will each have to meet our own responsibilities, but we’ll also have to manage our differences,” he said.

Both Xi and Lew agreed on the important role of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue – due to take place in the United States this year after being held in China in 2012 – in cooperation and making progress on differences, according to the U.S. official’s e-mailed note.


Trade is clearly an area of both cooperation and rivalry for the world’s two biggest economies, as China’s Commerce Ministry reinforced at a separate event, saying it would accelerate trade talks with key trading partners as U.S. efforts to seal its own trans-Pacific free trade deal gather pace.

China will hold three rounds of trade negotiations with Japan and South Korea this year and step up talks with other trading partners, the Ministry of Commerce said.

The talks are seen by analysts as a two-pronged initiative by Beijing to engage with Japan after recent diplomatic tension over disputed islands in the East China Sea, while also countering the “pivot” by the U.S. to reaffirm its role in Asia in the face of China’s economic rise.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last week that Tokyo would seek to join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks that currently bring together the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.

Bringing the world’s third-largest economy into the negotiations would set the stage for a final agreement covering nearly 40 percent of world’s economic output, but could also isolate China in the process.

“We will improve communications and talks with the related parties and push forward the progress of our own free trade areas,” Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman, Shen Danyang, told reporters when asked about Japan’s plan to join TPP talks.

In early January, amid the bleak winter landscape in the suburbs of Boston, Aviva Aiden shows up at a hospital for an interview.

She has a stethoscope around her neck, both hands in the pockets of her white doctor's smock, and a smile on her face. This American woman is enrolled in the doctorate program at Harvard Medical School, and is hoping to become a clinician.

Around two years ago, Aiden was featured in the mass media for a reason totally unrelated to her aspirations in medicine.

She had set up a project aimed at generating electricity from microbes living in the soil, and charging a cellphone with it. This was highly praised as a revolutionary idea, and received $100,000 (9.2 million yen) in funding from a foundation run by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda.

To date, 15 people have been involved in the project's development, including engineering students from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Five hundred batteries were taken to Uganda in East Africa, and are being used by people in rural villages with poor electrical infrastructure as part of operational tests.

“There aren't always proper roads,” says Aiden. “We stuck cheap chemicals or materials on the back of a donkey or a horse.”


“A spoonful of soil contains billions of microbes, and they emit electrons when breaking down organic material,” explains Peter Girguis, an associate professor at Harvard University who has provided guidance to Aiden. “Those electrons can be attracted by electrodes to produce electricity.”

This mechanism has been known for more than a century, but the electricity produced by bacteria is so faint that there have been no practical applications for it. The technology has been lacking to attract electrons efficiently.

However, technological progress has opened new ways forward. According to Girguis, one of these is LEDs.

“A small LED light uses less than a 1,000th of the electricity needed to power a standard incandescent light bulb. The power generated by microbes isn't enough to turn on a television, but it can turn on an LED light.”