RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Opening a two-day summit, President Barack Obama drew attention to contentious economic and cybersecurity issues Friday night as he warmly received Chinese President Xi Jinping to a California desert estate for high-stakes talks.
Under a shaded walkway as temperatures surged above 100 degrees, the two leaders -- in white shirts and suit coats but no ties -- greeted each other and walked side by side to start their first in-person meetings since Mr. Xi took office in March.
"Our decision to meet so early [in Mr. Xi's term] signifies the importance of the U.S.-China relationship," Mr. Obama said. He noted the unusual setting and said he hoped for "more extended" and informal talks that will lead to a "new model of cooperation" between countries.
Previewing their talks, Mr. Obama said he would also stress the importance of human rights, another sensitive issue with the Chinese. For his part, Mr. Xi did not mention cybersecurity, human rights or North Korea, another area of potential tensions between the two powers.
Speaking through a translator, Mr. Xi said both leaders were "meeting today to chart the future of U.S.-China relations." He said the world has "reaped huge benefits" from the relationship between the two nations.
The leaders were meeting at the 200-acre Sunnylands estate, just outside Palm Springs, Calif. They were to take reporters' questions later Friday evening after a bilateral meeting, then hold a working dinner Friday night and additional talks this morning.
Mr. Obama, seated next to Secretary of State John Kerry, said the United States welcomes the rise of a peaceful China and seeks "economic order where nations are playing by the same rules." He called for the United States and China to work together to address cybersecurity. "Inevitably, there are areas of tension between our countries," Mr. Obama said, adding that it's in the interest of both countries to work together.
But Mr. Obama's urging of Mr. Xi to stop reported Chinese hacking against the United States could be overshadowed by new revelations that Mr. Obama's own administration has been secretly collecting information about phone and Internet use. The actions of both China and the United States underscore the vast technological powers that governments can tap to gather information covertly from individuals, companies and other governments.
Mr. Obama, seeking to keep the matter from trailing him through two days of China meetings, addressed the surveillance programs for the first time Friday morning.
Mr. Obama arrived late in the day at the Sunnylands estate on the edge of the Mojave desert. Mr. Xi arrived Thursday in California after a trip to Latin America, a region where China is seeking to expand its trade and influence.
Mr. Obama told donors at a Democratic fundraiser Thursday that he understands the concerns that many Americans have about the potential threat China's rapid rise poses to the United States. "The transformation that's taking place in China is extraordinary. And never in the history of humanity have we seen so many people move out of poverty so rapidly," he said. "And yet, when you look at the challenges they face and you look at the challenges we face, I'll take our challenges any day of the week."
U.S. officials see Mr. Xi, who took office in March, as a potentially new kind of Chinese leader. He has deeper ties to the United States than many of his predecessors and appears more comfortable in public than the last president, Hu Jintao, with whom Mr. Obama never developed a strong personal rapport.
Already the White House is encouraged that Mr. Xi agreed to the unusual California summit. The talks will be void of the formal pageantry that Chinese leaders often expect during state visits at the White House.
For the United States, the most pressing matter is China's alleged cyberspying on the U.S. government and on its businesses.
First Published June 8, 2013 4:00 AM