Obama and Xi start new era on right footing

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 13, 2013
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Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama met in the picturesque estate in Rancho Mirage, California on June 7, 2013. [Photo: Chinanews.cn]

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama met in the picturesque estate in Rancho Mirage, California on June 7, 2013. [Photo: Chinanews.cn]

The slightly unusual planning of President Xi Jinping's recent trip to the Americas actually ended up working very well. I say unusual because one would normally expect a summit meeting between two such great powers to be the centerpiece of the visiting leader's trip, held formally and solemnly in the capital, whereas this one looked as though it was simply appended as an afterthought to President Xi's Latin American tour. The impression gained was one of almost complete informality, which is entirely in keeping with President Obama's preferred relaxed style. The message conveyed was that the Chinese leader is a friend whom Obama really wanted to see, rather than just another official visitor whom he is required to meet with. As Tom Donilon, President Obama's National Security Advisor said, this was a "unique" summit.

And the tone of the discussion clearly reflected that approach. As always, there were many matters of dispute between the U.S. and China; but they appear to have been addressed in an admirably non-confrontational manner. The real flashpoint might have been the cyber-security issue, which the U.S. has real concerns about; but the Chinese contention that cyber-security could potentially be a matter for cooperation rather than confrontation seems to have been well received. It is almost impossible to exert full control over what is said and what is searched for on the Internet, and both China and the U.S. have had difficulties with this fact; President Xi's visit coincided with a major row in both Britain and the U.S. about the cyber-activities of the American intelligence agencies. Nothing will ever stop one powerful nation from trying to find out what another one is doing; but it would be very useful for the security of the world as a whole if China and the U.S. can arrive at a set of mutually agreed guidelines in this field.

Also, it was noticeable that a lot of the animosity has disappeared from the argument over currencies. China's response to the constant American complaints about Chinese policies on maintaining the level of the renminbi has not been exactly what the Americans wanted; but recent Chinese moves to expand and free up renminbi trading with many of the world's currencies are clearly a move in the right direction and have been acknowledged as such.

On the major global security issues, the two sides appear closer than ever. Both countries agree in principle about North Korea; that it must not be allowed to develop into a nuclear-armed state. There were no specifics about exactly what will be done to prevent this, but one can't blame either side for that; this is a question to which no-one knows the answer. Still, I do wonder what the two presidents may have discussed during their private walk together through the gardens of the Sunnylands ranch.

The same goes for their discussions on the recent clashes in the South China Sea. The official version was that both sides agreed that these issues should be resolved by diplomatic rather than military means; but this is what diplomats always say and I would guess it went deeper than that. My feeling is that Obama assured Xi that the U.S. is not at all interested in encouraging her regional allies, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, to challenge China aggressively; that the U.S. has no problem with the Chinese position, provided it is advanced in an equally non-provocative manner.

So, the summit marks a hopeful start for this key relationship, which will make or mar global political stability for the remaining three and a half years of President Obama's tenure of office. It came at a fortunate time, when anti-U.S. feeling is not so strong in China and anti-Chinese feelings are weaker in the U.S. President Obama made no secret of his concern over the cyber-security issue, but at least he does not have to play to the gallery of old Republican anti-communists. There is now a better chance than ever before to build up genuine goodwill between the U.S. and China and both Presidents have been careful to send out the right messages.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn


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