WASHINGTON (AP) _ Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will go to China next week, becoming the highest-ranking administration official to visit the country since Beijing's harsh crackdown in Tibet.

The Treasury Department said Thursday that Paulson will meet with Chinese leaders and follow up on an agreement the two countries reached last year on environmental cooperation.

Treasury's announcement came a day after the White House said that President Bush had sharply confronted China's President Hu Jintao during a telephone call about the violence in Tibet. The White House said that Bush had stressed the need for restraint and the necessity for the Chinese to consult with representatives of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet.

China has defended its use of force against anti-Chinese protesters in Tibet, describing demonstrations that broke out in the capital city of Lhasa on March 14 as riots and violent crimes.

The demonstrations have been the most sustained uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet in almost two decades and have put a spotlight on China's human rights record at a time when it was hoping for a smooth run-up to this summer's Olympic games in Beijing.

The Treasury announcement said Paulson would be in Beijing on April 2 and 3 for meetings with Chinese leaders and also for a speech at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. That speech will focus on an agreement on the environment that the two countries reached during high-level economic talks last December.

At that time, the two countries agreed to cooperate over a 10-year period in efforts to address various environmental issues, including climate change, energy security and promoting the sustainable use of natural resources.

The environmental cooperation agreement came at the third round of talks known as the strategic economic dialogue, which were launched in 2006 in an effort to ease economic tensions between the two nations as the U.S. trade deficit with China soared.

American manufacturers contend that China has artificially devalued its currency by as much as 40 percent against the dollar as a way of making Chinese products cheaper for U.S. consumers, while making American products more expensive in China.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and 13 other members of the panel sent Bush a letter on Thursday urging the administration to take a tougher line on trade matters with China in light of a U.S. trade deficit with that country which hit $256.3 billion last year. It was the highest imbalance ever recorded with a single country.

"Now, more than ever, it is critical that the administration use all available tools at its disposal to address China's protracted, large-scale intervention in the foreign exchange markets to maintain an undervalued currency," the lawmakers said, contending that China's currency manipulation has led "to massive U.S. trade deficits, lost jobs and a suppression of U.S. economic growth."

The lawmakers said the administration needs to bring a case accusing China before the World Trade Organization and also must work to get the International Monetary Fund to hold China accountable for its currency policies.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.