Obama and Xi to test limits of personal ties

Published: Friday 25th September 2015 by The News Editor

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US president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping will test the limits of their personal ties later as they wade into issues that have exacerbated tensions.

Discussions on cyber-spying and Beijing’s territorial disputes in the Asian Pacific region will play out against the backdrop of White House pageantry as Mr Obama hosts Mr Xi for a grand state visit, including a black-tie dinner.

In keeping with the spirit of a state visit – an honour bestowed on close partners – the US was emphasising areas of agreement with Beijing, including on climate change.

US officials said Mr Obama and Mr Xi would release a joint statement on climate change fleshing out how they plan to achieve targets for cutting carbon emissions set at a bilateral summit in Beijing last year.

Mr Xi also plans to announce a blueprint for a nationwide cap-and-trade system beginning in 2017, one that would cover highly-polluting sectors ranging from power generation to paper-making.

China will also offer a “very substantial financial commitment” to help poor nations transition to low-pollution technologies, the US officials said.

Climate change is one of the few areas where bilateral co-operation has proceeded smoothly in recent months, largely because Beijing has struggled to contain heavy air, water and soil pollution that has destroyed farmland, sent cancer rates soaring and left its cities cloaked in dense smog.

The progress on China has been offset by disputes over cyber espionage and territorial claims that have spooked US partners in the region.

“The assumptions that many people had, that co-operation on transnational threats like climate change would ameliorate problems in geopolitical arenas, were wrong,” said Michael Green, White House Asian affairs director under President George W Bush and current senior vice-president at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

US officials had hoped for broader co-operation between Mr Obama and Mr Xi since the pair’s unusually informal 2013 summit at the Sunnylands estate in southern California.

Last year, Mr Obama travelled to Beijing, and the two leaders strolled in the sprawling gardens next to the Forbidden City and met over a lengthy private dinner where details of the climate change agreement were finalised.

In recent weeks, however, US officials have been taking a tougher line publicly against China’s alleged hacking, saying it is reaching epidemic levels. Officials have warned of retaliatory sanctions on businesses and individuals.

“This is not just a matter of us being mildly upset, but is something that will put significant strains on a bilateral relationship if not resolved, and that we are prepared to take some countervailing actions,” Mr Obama said this month.

China has denied being behind cyber spying in the US and said that it, too, is a victim of such espionage.

Mr Obama and Mr Xi are also expected to discuss China’s disputed territorial claims, which have unnerved some US partners in Asia. The US is particularly concerned about China’s building of artificial islands with military facilities in the South China Sea.

Published: Friday 25th September 2015 by The News Editor

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