BEIJING — On the final stop of his four-day China trip on Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden sought to assure a university audience that the United States will come to grips with its debt problem, and he blamed a vocal faction of the Republican Party for the failure to reach a deal.
"We do have to deal with the deficit, we will deal with it," Biden told the audience at Sichuan University, in the southwestern city of Chengdu. "And that's what this 2012 election is going to be about.
"We made some significant progress, but not the progress we should have made and will make," Biden said, referring to the last-minute deal between the White House and Congress to raise the U.S. borrowing limit. "But there is a group within the Republican Party that has a very strong voice now that wanted different changes. So that deal fell through at the very end."
Biden told the audience that despite the current economic problems and turmoil in the financial markets, the United States remains "the single best bet in the world in terms of where to invest."
Asked by a student about the safety of China's $1.17 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities, Biden replied: "You're safe."
"Please understand that no one cares more about this than we do, since Americans own 87 percent of all our financial assets and 69 percent of all our Treasury bonds, while China owns 1 percent of our financial assets and 8 percent of our Treasury bills, respectively," Biden said.
"So our interest is not just to protect Chinese investment," he said.
Biden's mission here was originally for U.S. officials to get to know China's incoming top leader, Vice President Xi Jinping, who will make a reciprocal visit to Washington either later this year or in early 2012. But the trip became overshadowed by the continuing economic problems in the United States.
In Sichuan, Biden also made a nod to human rights concerns.
"I recognize that many of you in this auditorium see our advocacy of human rights as, at best, an intrusion and, at worst, an assault on your sovereignty," Biden said in his speech, as reported by news agencies. "I know that some in China believe that greater freedom could threaten economic progress by undermining social stability."
But he added, "I believe history has shown the opposite to be true: That in the long run, greater openness is a source of stability and a sign of strength."
Biden travels to Mongolia next before proceeding to Japan.