BALI, Indonesia – President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao conferred today in a surprise meeting on the sidelines of a major Asian summit, likely focusing on the economic matters that have prompted disputes between the two major world powers.
The session was not a formally planned moment of diplomacy but rather a late add-on to let the two men continue their conversation from a group dinner the night before, a senior Obama official said.
The two leaders were not expected to make formal statements.
The meeting came on the last leg of Obama’s nine-day Asia-Pacific trip, in which he has focused on bulking up America’s presence in the region, including setting up a Marine task force in Australia, in moves largely seen as hedges against China’s rise.
China has also been angered by the U.S. stand that it has a stake in security and unhampered international commerce in the disputed territorial waters of the South China Sea. Wen told a meeting of Southeast Asian nations on Friday that “external forces should not use any excuse to interfere” in territorial disputes in the sea.
China claims all of the sea, while several Southeast Asian nations claim parts.
Wen’s portfolio, though, is chiefly economic, and that is where his conversation with Obama was expected to focus. The United States and China have been tussling over China’s currency, which the United States contends is deeply undervalued, and over intellectual property.