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U.S. lawmakers urge Obama to press Hu on trade rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of 84 U.S. lawmakers has urged President Barack Obama to tell his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, "that America's patience is near an end" over China's failure to play by trade rules.

"We can no longer afford to tolerate China's disregard for binding commitments they agreed to as a part of their accession to the World Trade Organization," the group from the U.S. House of Representatives said in a letter released on Wednesday.

The group's letter threw a spotlight on one of the most contentious issues during Hu's four-day state visit to the United States. Critics in the United States say China does not play by the rules as it amasses economic power and maintains a huge trade surplus with the United States.

The lawmakers accused China of manipulating its currency to give its exporters an unfair trade advantage, doling out generous subsidies to help its domestic companies, restricting rare earth exports to disadvantage foreign high-tech companies and forcing U.S. and other Western companies to transfer technology in order to do business in the Chinese market.

"The strong, bipartisan showing on this letter illustrates that there is a broad base of support for the President demanding action from China," said Representative Michael Michaud, chairman of the House Trade Working Group.

The letter, dated on Tuesday, was one in stream of missives from lawmakers ahead of what some analysts have called the most important U.S.-China summit in the past three decades.

"Ensuring that China abides by international trade laws is imperative for the vitality of our nation's economy and for the viability of American businesses. We believe that President Hu should hear this message no uncertain terms," the letter said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Frances Kerry)