Barack Obama and Xi Jinping

Obama and Xi discuss cyber hacking, climate change and North Korea.

Obama and Xi broach thorny issues at informal talks

By News Wires (text)

With a stroll under the California desert sun, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping opened a second day of talks at a “get to know you” summit featuring a high-stakes agenda for the leaders of the world’s largest economies.

Obama described the talks as “terrific” as he and Xi walked side by side Saturday through the manicured gardens of the sprawling Sunnylands estate. In the spirit of the informal atmosphere at the meetings, the men went without jackets and ties.

The presidents rejoined advisers for a session expected to focus on economic issues, along with additional discussions on North Korea and cybersecurity. The White House said after a two-hour bilateral meeting, the presidents ended their visit by having tea with Xi’s wife and the wife of the Chinese ambassador for about half an hour. There were no closing statements or final images of the leaders together.

The White House said in a statement shortly after Xi departed the sprawling estate that the two nations agreed to work together for the first time to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas. It is commonly used as a coolant in refrigerators, air conditioners, hair spray and other household items, along with industrial applications.

At a news conference Friday night, Obama said the United States and China were in “uncharted waters” regarding the issue of cybersecurity. The presidents carefully avoided accusing each other’s nation of high-tech intrusions, but acknowledged an urgent need to find a common approach on addressing the matter.

“We don’t have the kind of protocols that have governed military issues and arms issues, where nations have a lot of experience in trying to negotiate what’s acceptable and what’s not,” Obama said.

Obama also sought to distinguish between China’s alleged cyberspying and his own government’s monitoring of U.S. phone and Internet records. He insisted the two issues were separate and distinct, and that concerns over hacking and intellectual property theft shouldn’t be confused with the debate over how governments collect data to combat terrorist threats.

“That’s a conversation that I welcome,” Obama said.

Xi, who called rapid technological advancements a “double-edged sword,” claimed no responsibility for China’s alleged cyberespionage. He said China was also a victim of cyberspying but did not assign any blame.

The U.S. has started bringing its complaints about persistent Chinese computer-hacking into the open after years of quiet and largely unsuccessful diplomacy. It has accused Beijing’s government and military of computer-based attacks against America. While there have been no actual admissions of guilt, Chinese leaders have started acknowledging there is a problem and U.S. officials say the Chinese seem more open to working with the U.S. to address it.

U.S. officials cast the summit as an opportunity for Obama and Xi to hold candid talks on the many issues that define the relationship between the two powers, including the economy, climate change and North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

It was the leaders’ first meeting since Xi took office in March.

They originally were scheduled to hold their first talks in September, on the sidelines of an economic summit in Russia. But both countries agreed there was a need to meet earlier.

U.S. officials see Xi as a potentially new kind of Chinese leader. He has deeper ties to the U.S. than many of his predecessors and appears more comfortable in public than the last president, Hu Jintao, with whom Obama never developed a strong personal rapport.

Many of the same issues that defined Obama’s relationship with Hu remain.

Xi was expected to press China’s claims of business discrimination in U.S. markets and to express concern over Obama’s efforts to expand U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region. China sees that as an attempt to contain its growing power.

On North Korea, U.S. officials said Obama was looking to build on Xi’s apparent impatience with North Korea’s nuclear provocations. The U.S. has welcomed Xi’s recent calls for North Korea to return to nuclear talks, though it’s unclear whether the North is ready to change its behavior.

On the economic front, U.S.

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manufacturers have long contended that China is manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage. The U.S. trade deficit with China is the largest with any single nation. The U.S. government, however, has declined to label China a currency manipulator in an effort to narrow the trade deficit through negotiation rather than confrontation.

Xi was due to depart for China in the afternoon. Obama planned to stay in California through the weekend, though he had no public events planned.