RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The United States and China are economic competitors that face “a whole range of challenges on which we have to cooperate,” President Barack Obama said late Friday as he welcomed his Chinese counterpart to a two-day summit in this California desert town.
“The United States welcomes the continuing peaceful rise of China as a world power,” Obama said in his opening statement, with President Xi Jinping sitting across the table from him. “We believe that a peaceful and stable and prosperous China is not only good for Chinese, but also good for the world and for the United States.”
Obama also alluded to an issue aides said would be high on the agenda of his meetings with Xi: alleged cyber spying by China on U.S. companies and government entities.
The United States seeks an international economy “where nations are playing by the same rules, where trade is free and fair, and where the United States and China work together to address issues like cyber security and the protection of intellectual property,” he said.
Obama said he wanted to talk about all the hot-button issues between the two nations. Although he raised several of them explicitly in front of Xi, he framed them delicately as concerns the two countries could “work together to address.” He said he wanted to talk about human rights with a nod toward Xi’s willingness to address the subject.
He did not mention the territorial conflicts in the East China and South China seas between Beijing and Asian neighbors who are U.S. allies.
Xi, who took office in March, noted that the two leaders “are meeting each other earlier than people might have expected” to chart the future of U.S.-Chinese relations.
“Our two countries have a vast convergence of shared interests, from promoting economic growth at home to ensuring the stability of the global economy, from addressing international and regional hot spot issues to dealing with all kinds of global challenges. On all these issues our two countries need to increase exchanges and cooperation.”
Obama has decided that cyber security ranks along with economic and defense issues as a “constant focus” in relations with China, a White House official said recently, adding that a wave of digital break-ins “threatens to damage U.S.-China relations, as well as potentially damage the international economy and China’s reputation.”
The U.S. and China agreed in April to hold high-level talks to try to set rules for cyber security.
China specialists said Obama and Xi aren’t aiming for particular agreements when they emerge from this weekend’s meetings, but something less tangible.
“It’s helpful if both teams can come away from the meeting saying, ‘I can understand where this person is coming from,’ ” said Christopher Johnson, a former China specialist for the CIA and now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That’s very important in an era and an environment of this increased mutual strategic distrust that has been the theme for the last 18 months.”