**US, China Report Progress on Trade Disputes**
Senior U.S. and Chinese officials finished two days of trade talks Wednesday, touting progress on a number of economic issues that have complicated the relationship between the world's two biggest economies.
The annual U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, held this year in Washington, was the first high-level meeting since President Barack Obama's re-election and China's once-a-decade leadership transition.
Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming says Beijing would address U.S. concerns about the counterfeiting of American goods by strengthening intellectual property rights and ensuring that government offices and state-owned banks do not use pirated software.
Chen says Washington promised to promote exports of high-technology goods to China and promised fair treatment for Chinese companies investing in the United States.
Despite the optimistic statements usually given at such high-level meetings, the U.S.-China trade relationship has grown increasingly rocky in recent years, with Washington and Beijing bringing a rising number of international trade disputes against one another.
** Laos Gov't Denies Role in Disappearance of Activist**
The government of Laos is denying responsibility for the disappearance of a prominent social activist, but human rights groups disagree, saying security camera footage suggests he was detained by Lao authorities.
Sombath Somphone was last seen Saturday in the capital of Vientiane, when his jeep was stopped by authorities outside a police post. Video footage appears to show him being taken away with two unidentified men.
The Lao Foreign Affairs Ministry says a preliminary assessment of the footage suggests the 60-year-old activist may have been "kidnapped because of a personal conflict or conflict in business."
It said the government has no information on Sombath's whereabouts, but that authorities are "seriously investigating."