U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, under pressure to raise human rights and Tibet with Chinese officials, emphasized friendship over friction during a visit to China on Sunday.
After touching down in Chengdu, capital of quake-hit Sichuan province, Rice met with quake victims and toured a relief camp in Dujiangyan, a city hard hit by the May 12 quake which killed some 70,000 people.
"I'm really impressed by the recovery effort. It is really a sign of how the human spirit can overcome great devastation," Rice told reporters.
Washington has been a vocal critic of China's human rights record, and urged China to continue talks with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Beijing denounces the Dalai Lama as a separatist and blames him for masterminding the March 14 riots in Lhasa to derail preparations for the Beijing Olympics in August. The Dalai Lama denies the accusations, and says he favors more autonomy for the mountainous region, rather than outright independence.
Rice, the most senior U.S. official to visit China since the deadly riots in the Tibetan capital, was due to meet Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi later on Sunday.
"Human rights are always a part of the conversation," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on the sidelines of Rice's visit.
China met with the envoys of the Dalai Lama in May, but further talks were postponed by the Sichuan earthquake.
President Bush has rebuffed calls to boycott the Olympics, saying he viewed the event as a sporting contest and would use his special access as an invited guest of Chinese President Hu Jintao to raise U.S. concerns in private.
China says the Games should not be politicized.
Rice was also expected to raise the issue of multilateral talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.
On Thursday, North Korea delivered a long-delayed list of its nuclear activities, but analysts say key questions remain about its nuclear weapons and proliferation.
China which hosts six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program, is seen as key to placing pressure on the prickly reclusive state, which some experts have said will continue to drag out the disarmament process.
‘Not a matter of politics’
Rice, who talked to children at a makeshift library and toured rubble-strewn buildings in Dujiangyan, was asked to compare China's relief efforts with Myanmar's response to a devastating cyclone that left more than 138,000 dead or missing.
"It is a contrast," Rice said.
"The Chinese people have reached out for help. That's what people around the world want to do ... This is not a matter of politics. This is a matter of human beings wanting to respond to other human beings in need."
Rice said the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development Henrietta Fore would arrive in Sichuan with a delegation including private companies to aid reconstruction efforts.
The United States has provided some $1.5 million in humanitarian aid to China since the quake. Together with Defense Department funds, most of which are spent on transportation and logistics in delivering the aid, the U.S. government has spent over $3.7 million to help the victims.