Vice-premier Wang Yang said the two countries needed to build trust and co-operation like a married couple, as he stood with the US Treasury secretary, Jack Lew.
Both officials came to their positions this year and are co-chairing the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual meeting between the world’s two biggest economies.
“In China when we say a pair of new people, we mean a newlywed couple,” Wang said about himself and Lew. “Although US law does permit marriage between two men, I don’t think this is what Jacob or I actually want.”
Wang went on to describe how the United States and China had to build trust like a married couple, and respect each other’s right to speak.
“[But] we cannot have a divorce the way Wendi and Rupert Murdoch just had,” Wang said, referring to the News Corp chief executive and his Chinese-born wife of 14 years, Wendi Deng. “For that, it would be too big a price to pay.”
Lew briefly smiled down at his notes after Wang’s comments, but many members of the Chinese delegation squirmed.
Wang, one of China’s best-known reformers, became one of four vice-premiers in March after serving as the Communist party chief in Guangdong, one of China’s richest and most liberal provinces.
Wang has less foreign and diplomatic experience than his colleague in the Chinese delegation, state councillor Yang Jiechi, who kept his remarks much more serious during the opening session earlier on Wednesday.
Wang said he had not been in the United States for 10 years and wasn’t sure how much had changed.
“Well, in the past two days, I can see that the Americans are still taller than the Chinese and still have a stronger body and longer nose than the Chinese. [So] nothing much has changed, so I feel more confident of my visit this time.”
A senior US administration official said Wang was impressive, amusing with an easygoing manner.
“Sometimes humour doesn’t translate into a foreign language, but I thought he showed a good sense of humour,” the official said.