U.S.-China Talks Yield Pledge for a New Model of Cooperation

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China wrapped up two days of talks on Saturday and said that they were building "a new model" of more cooperative relations after 40 years of diplomatic ups and downs.

The two leaders met for several hours on Saturday after talks on Friday that included discussion of a nuclear-armed North Korea, cyberespionage, climate change, free trade and human rights. They did not make statements after their talks ended at noon on Saturday.Mr. Xi said he and Mr. Obama "reached important consensus on these issues" when they spoke to reporters during a break late Friday, after meeting for more than the planned three hours and before a nearly two-hour working dinner.

But Mr. Obama cautioned, "We've got a lot of work to do to take these broad understandings down to the level of specifics, and that will require further discussions" in the "weeks, months, years to come."

Mr. Xi referred repeatedly to "a new model of major-country relationship," reflecting his ambitions that China emerge as an equal partner to the United States on the global economic and diplomatic stage, even as its wary Pacific Rim neighbors look to Washington to check Beijing's rise.

Mr. Obama must manage the tension between acting as a partner with China and serving as a bulwark for the United States' Asian allies as he pursues his so-called Asia pivot, redirecting America's diplomatic focus after a decade preoccupied with wars and strife in the Middle East and North Africa.

From the outset, the White House said the purpose of the weekend meetings at a secluded estate was not to announce new deals or understandings -- "deliverables," in diplomatic parlance -- but instead to create a more comfortable relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi, who took full power in March, that could produce concrete results when issues and disputes arise.

In particular, the White House hoped the talks would shed light on recent signals from Beijing that it is weary of defending North Korea in the face of its repeated provocations and threats in the region, and ready to collaborate with the United States and its allies to press North Korea to forsake nuclear weapons.

Under strong public pressure from Mr. Xi's government, North Korea muted what had been a flurry of belligerent statements after nuclear and missile tests this year. After suspending nearly all contact with South Korea, the North has in recent weeks reversed course, and on Sunday officials of the two countries are to meet at a border village to arrange the first cabinet minister-level meeting in six years.

The Obama administration has welcomed China's assertiveness with its neighbor and ally, believing that it reflects a new calculation that a constant state of crisis on the Korean Peninsula is destabilizing for the Chinese as well.

On one of the most pointed issues they confronted, American accusations that China's military and enterprises linked to the state have broken into American computer systems, Mr. Xi's response was not conciliatory, but defensive and evasive. He sidestepped a direct question about his country's involvement, despite a Pentagon report to Congress this year that asserted numerous intrusions.

"I note sharp increased media coverage of the issue of cybersecurity," Mr. Xi said. "This might give people the sense or feeling that cybersecurity as a threat mainly comes from China or that the issue of cybersecurity is the biggest problem in the China-U.S. relationship."

Mr. Obama at least publicly softened his language and spread the blame for the hacking and theft of business, financial and military information. "Those are not issues that are unique to the U.S.-China relationship," the president said. "Those are issues that are of international concern. Oftentimes it's nonstate actors who are engaging in these issues as well."

He added, "We're going to have to work very hard to build a system of defenses and protections, both in the private sector and in the public sector, even as we negotiate with other countries around setting up common rules of the road." And, Mr. Obama said, China would face similar threats as its economy continues to develop -- Mr. Xi suggested it already had -- "which is why I believe we can work together on this rather than at cross-purposes."

Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the meetings, has previously announced that the two countries would discuss the matter as part of the annual meetings known as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to be held in Washington in July.

Little was said publicly about the range of other issues that have confronted the two countries, including a raft of maritime territorial disputes between China and Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines that have become more assertive and, thus, potentially dangerous.

Broadly, though, both leaders urged cooperation, not conflict. Mr. Obama called for joint efforts to address climate change, including through sharing clean-energy technologies, and to establish better military communications so "that we each understand our strategic objectives at the military as well as the political levels."

Mr. Xi agreed. "China and the United States must find a new path," he said, "one that is different from the inevitable confrontation and conflict between the major countries of the past."

The Chinese president, who as a young man lived for a time with a family in Iowa and visited again during his trip to the United States last year as vice president and leader in waiting, said he and Mr. Obama would keep "close communication" through letters, phone calls, bilateral meetings and more visits, adding, "I invited President Obama to come to China at an appropriate time for a similar meeting like this.

"Both sides have the political will to build this relationship," Mr. Xi said.

For all the advance talk of the informality, the talks largely followed well-established diplomatic routine, and the necessary translations limited spontaneity. The two leaders sat opposite each other at a conference table, flanked by their senior aides and interpreters. When they appeared before journalists, briefly, they selected one American and one Chinese reporter to ask a question each. According to White House officials, they then continued their talks until 10:44 p.m. over a dinner that lasted almost two hours, prepared on site by celebrity chef Bobby Flay -- including lobster tamales, porterhouse steak and cherry pie.

Mr. Obama stayed overnight at the Sunnylands retreat, a 25,000-square-foot Modernist mansion that was the winter oasis of the billionaire publisher and Republican patron Walter H. Annenberg, but the Chinese party chose to stay at a nearby hotel.After breakfast on Saturday, the two presidents resumed discussions. They emerged first from the main house at Sunnylands and strolled across a bucolic expanse of grass and over a pedestrian bridge with the San Jacinto Mountains as a spectacular backdrop. Wearing shirts open at the neck and no jackets, they were accompanied only by their interpreters, and their discussion could not be discerned.

While their talks on Friday evening delved into security and geopolitical issues, the meetings on Saturday focused on economic and trade issues.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Xi and their all-male attendants forsook ties for the affair, which was just as well, since the room at the Annenberg estate where they met seemed uncomfortably hot at times. But perhaps understandably, given the personalities of both leaders, there was little sign of backslapping bonhomie in what administration officials had advertised as an "unscripted" setting.

After the talks ended on Saturday, Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi had tea with Mr. Xi's wife Peng Liyuan, a famed singer and major general, and Madame Ni, the wife of the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations. The Chinese delegation left the retreat at about noon. For Mr. Xi, it ended a trip to the Americas that last week had him in Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico -- another sign of Beijing's global ambitions and search for new energy sources.

Mr. Obama, however, planned to stay another night at Sunnylands to relax there with friends from Hawaii, where he grew up, and possibly to play golf on the estate's nine-hole course if temperatures, which peak well above 100 degrees, cool enough before dark.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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