RANCHO MIRAGE, California: President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping met for a second day Saturday, grasping for a personal understanding that could ease often prickly US-China relations.
Obama and Xi spent nearly six hours together at a desert oasis in California on Friday and added another three hours the next morning, wrestling with the future of a crucial global relationship and a new flashpoint on cyberhacking.
In one early sign of a tangible outcome from the talks at the Sunnylands retreat, the White House said Obama and Xi had agreed on a joint effort to combat climate change, specifically the production of “super greenhouse gases.”
Xi and Obama got back to work on Saturday morning, strolling together through the lush California landscape, in casual weekend slacks and shirts, in a nod to the less formal tone in Sino-US ties they seek to cultivate.
“Terrific,” Obama replied, when a reporter asked how things were going, ahead of a morning of talks expected to be mostly dominated by the broad economic relationship between the two countries.
Xi is expected to lead China during a decade in which it will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy.
In an unusually public airing of views Friday, Xi and Obama publicly discussed cyberhacking following reports Chinese Internet spies have snapped up billions of dollars in US commercial secrets as well as military designs.
In their first meeting since Xi assumed power from ex-president Hu Jintao in March, Obama expressed the hope for a “new model of cooperation between countries based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“It is in the United States’ interests that China continues on the path of success because we believe that a peaceful and stable and prosperous China is not only good for the Chinese, but also good for the world and the United States.”
On Saturday, just after Xi left the retreat with his wife Peng Liyuan, the White House announced a new joint effort between the rivals to combat climate change, through a bid to curb the production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — potent greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners.
“A global phase down of HFCs could potentially reduce some 90 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, equal to roughly two years’ worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions,” the statement said.
Hovering over the summit at a resort once frequented by Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon was a vexing question for both countries — whether China’s rise in its region and the world means an inevitable clash with the United States.
Xi invited Obama to pay a return informal visit to China. Mirroring his host’s theme of a new approach, Xi said: “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China.”
“We’re meeting here today to chart the future of China-US relations and draw a blueprint for this relationship,” Xi said, next to aides in identical business casual outfits.
The US president Friday wasted no time in hitting a key theme of the visit from the US side — complaints of an alleged Chinese Internet spying effort targeting American military and commercial secrets and intellectual property.
He called for “common rules of the road” to protect against hacking — a similar linguistic formulation he has used to protest alleged Chinese currency manipulation and supposed trade abuses.
“President Xi and I recognize that, because of the incredible advances of technology, the issue of cybersecurity and the need for rules, and common approaches to security, have become increasingly important,” Obama said.
“It’s critical, as two of the largest economies and military powers of the world, that China and the United States arrive at a firm understanding,” Obama said.
Ahead of the summit, the two countries announced working-level talks to clear up the issue.
Xi said he wanted “good-faith cooperation” to clear up “misgivings” by the United States about cybersecurity, telling reporters that China was also “a victim of cyberattacks.”
“The Chinese government is firm in upholding cybersecurity and we have major concerns about cybersecurity,” Xi said, adding that recent media coverage “might give people the sense that cybersecurity as a threat mainly comes from China.”
Xi also reiterated his frequent, if occasionally vague call for world powers to think differently about relations.
“We need to think creatively and act energetically, so that, working together, we can build a new model of major country relationship,” Xi said.
The two leaders had not been expected to meet until the G20 summit in Russia in September. But both sides, sensing uncertainty seeping into a complicated and often difficult relationship, saw value in an earlier encounter.