US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) launched straight into discussing thorny issues at an informal summit that began on Friday.
The two-day meeting at a desert retreat near Palm Springs, California, was meant to be an opportunity for Obama and Xi to get to know each other, Chinese and US officials have said, and to inject some warmth into often chilly relations while setting the stage for better cooperation.
The first day yielded no major breakthroughs or concrete announcements.
After more than two hours of discussions, Xi and Obama said they had agreed on the need to work together to tackle cybersecurity issues, a major irritant in bilateral ties as US accusations of Chinese hacking intensify.
They also agreed on the importance of improved military-to-military ties, an area hindered in the past by mistrust and poor communication.
“We are more likely to achieve our objectives of prosperity and security of our peoples if we are working cooperatively rather than engaged in conflict,” Obama told reporters.
Ties between Beijing and Washington have been buffeted in recent months by strains over trade disputes, North Korea, human rights and each country’s military intentions.
Obama said the two countries must strike a balance between competition and cooperation to overcome the challenges that divide them, while Xi pushed for a relationship that takes into account China’s ascendancy.
Xi is expected to voice discomfort over Washington’s strategic pivot toward Asia, a military rebalancing of US forces toward the Pacific that Beijing sees as an effort to hamper its economic and political expansion.
Obama and Xi are due to hold a total of more than five hours of talks in Sunnylands, an 81 hectare estate on Bob Hope Drive that has hosted US presidents including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and where afternoon June temperatures soar to 43oC or more.
Obama will be looking to build on growing Chinese impatience with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, a shift that could bring Beijing — the closest thing Pyongyang has to an ally — closer to Washington’s position.
“I think it’s perhaps the most important meeting that they’ll have in their tenure,” said Paul Haenle, former China director on the National
Security Council and director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. “The biggest problem with the relationship is that we haven’t had the deep and personal engagement at the very senior level that’s required now to move forward to take the relationship to a new point.”
In Taipei, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said the summit is not expected to affect the relationship between Taiwan and the US.
Lin said the ministry believed that the US will stand firm on its commitment to Taiwan as stated in its Taiwan Relations Act.
Although Taiwan issue will inevitably be raised during the summit, it will not be a major issue, said Lin, who heads a panel to monitor the development of the summit.
Lin said the US had provided Taiwan with related information in advance of the talks.
The panel will continue to operate until the end of the event and will present analysis reports about the summit for internal references only, said Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), director-general of the ministry’s Department of North American Affairs.