US President Barack Obama wasted no time in courting new Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) on Thursday, calling him within hours of his elevation, and then pressing him on cybercrime and North Korea.
Obama, beginning his second term as Xi embarks on his first, congratulated his counterpart in the crucial US-China relationship and announced the dispatch of two senior Cabinet lieutenants to Beijing shortly.
The US president had a cordial yet sometimes frustratingly formal relationship with Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), and his decision to reach out quickly to the new Chinese leadership may be a sign of intent.
The White House said Obama congratulated Xi on his new position and promised regular high-level engagement on economic and security challenges on which Beijing and Washington have been increasingly at odds in recent months.
“The president highlighted the threat to the United States, its allies, and the region from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs,” and sought close coordination with China on the issue, a statement said.
Earlier this week, Obama said he detected increasing frustration in Beijing with its troublesome ally, following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test and inflammatory rhetoric toward Washington and Seoul.
Obama also raised with Xi the importance of addressing cybersecurity threats which he said, diplomatically, represent “a shared challenge.”
In an ABC News interview this week, Obama was more blunt, saying a number of Internet-borne attacks on US corporations, infrastructure and government from China were state-sponsored, and pledged to raise them at the highest levels.
Shortly after Obama spoke to Xi, US officials said that US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew would travel to Beijing next week to discuss the vast and complicated relationship between the world’s two largest economies.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will follow Lew to Beijing in the middle of next month, on a trip also including South Korea and Japan, as he seeks to lock in gains from an Obama administration first-term diplomatic and military pivot to Asia.
China’s Xinhua news agency said that Xi told Obama that “China and the United States have enormous common interests, but also differences.”
“He emphasized that as long as the two sides follow the spirit of mutual respect, openness and tolerance, China and the United States will be able to achieve more” and turn “the Pacific into an ocean of peace and cooperation,” it said.
Beijing has viewed Obama’s pivot of diplomatic and military resources toward Asia with concern and chafed as Washington has supported the idea of a regional code of conduct on maritime disputes wanted by its allies.
Xi also underlined China’s principles on cybersecurity and North Korea, Xinhua said without giving further details.