WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and China’s new president, Xi Jinping, will meet today at a sprawling California retreat for two days of talks aimed as much at fostering a rapport between leaders of the two global superpowers as at reaching agreement on a variety of crucial issues.
The meeting at an estate in the posh resort community of Rancho Mirage will cover economic and security issues, including North Korean aggression and cybersecurity – amid reports that Chinese hackers have gained access to U.S. weapons programs. It’s also being viewed as a starting block for developing a cooperative relationship in areas where the world’s two largest economies can find common ground.
“The White House always likes to say before meetings that it’s not about deliverables (concrete agreements); it’s about relationships. It happens to be true in this case,” said Jeffrey Bader, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “This really is about building a personal relationship between the two.”
The format of the meeting – a secluded setting at the sumptuous Sunnylands retreat of the late publishing magnate Walter Annenberg – is designed to give the two presidents more face time than they traditionally get in talks on the sidelines of international summits or during formal visits.
Xi, who’s likely to lead China for the next decade, arrives in California after a swing across Latin America, a region vital to the U.S. economy and one where China plays an increasingly influential role: In Mexico alone, Xi opened his nation’s wallet to pledge better relations, offering $1 billion in credit to Petroleos Mexicanos, the state oil giant, and pledging $1 billion in trade deals.
There’s no expectation of breakthroughs on sensitive issues such as currency reform, human rights or cyberattacks. But Xi has talked of a new type of relationship between the superpowers and though U.S. officials are uncertain what it may mean, they’re encouraged that Xi – in at least one way – is unlike previous Chinese leaders, who have insisted that the first visit by a Chinese leader be a state visit, complete with the pomp of a White House welcoming ceremony.
White House officials said Obama would raise the issue of hacking with Xi, emphasizing that it could damage U.S.-China relations and that the U.S. thought that governments were responsible for cyberattacks that came from within their borders.
China’s aggressive hacking into U.S. computer systems remains a chief sticking point between the countries, and they agreed ahead of the summit to set up a working group to hold discussions on cybersecurity.
The Chinese government has denied involvement in hacking and said China itself was regularly subjected to such attacks. They also aren’t convinced the U.S. has sufficient evidence that China is behind the attacks.