US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping struck a pragmatic note by focussing more on areas in which they could work together while seeking to downplay their mutual differences.
Despite prominent areas of disagreements between the two nations, Obama and Xi branded the budding US-China relationship as productive and candid and sealed a bunch of key agreements on green house emissions, military cooperation, trade and investment.
However, Obama did raise issues like Hong Kong protests, cyber security threats and China’s human rights record, which continue to be the irritant topics on which both nations differ widely.
Speaking about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Obama said that the US endorsed free and fair elections in the region but Xi almost snubbed him, calling the topic a “Chinese internal affair”.
Speaking in a rare joint press conference, Obama struck a positive note saying, “I believe that President Xi and I have a common understanding on how the relationship between our two countries should move forward”.
“Where we have disagreements, we will be candid about our intentions, and we will work to narrow those differences where possible,” Obama said as he closed a three-day trip to China.
For its part, Beijing remains skeptical of Obama’s intentions in Asia, seeing his efforts to bolster US economic ties in the region as a way of countering China’s rise. Speaking through a translator, Xi said “the Pacific Ocean is broad enough” to accommodate the prowess of both the US and China.
Obama’s domestic political weakness, particularly following the Democrats’ defeats in last week’s midterm elections, has also sparked questions in China about whether the U.S. president can deliver on potential international agreements. In the days leading up to Obama’s visit, a newspaper with ties to the Chinese government said the American public had “downgraded” Obama and grown tired of his “banality.”
The US president dismissed such criticism in China, saying, “I am always working on the assumption that the press gives me a hard time wherever I go, whether in the United States or China.”
Obama and Xi did announce a series of agreements through their two days of talks, including a significant joint announcement on greenhouse gases that was the result of months of secret discussions between U.S. and Chinese officials.
As part of the new agreement, Obama announced that the US would move much faster in cutting pollution, with a goal to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. Xi, whose country’s emissions are still growing as it builds new coal plants, didn’t commit to cut emissions by a specific amount. Rather, he set a target for China’s emissions to peak by 2030, or earlier if possible.
Obama and Xi also announced plans to have their militaries give each other more guidance about their activities in the Pacific. There was also an agreement to move forward on trade talks to reduce tariffs on high-tech goods, as well as a deal to extend the lengths of visas granted to U.S. and Chinese citizens.
Human rights has long been an area where the U.S. and China have been at odds. Obama said he broached the topic in his conversations with Xi, saying universal freedoms are essential “whether it is in New York or Paris of Hong Kong.”