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Going casual: Obama, Xi seek new relations

Barack Obama, Xi JinpingRANCHO MIRAGE, California: US President Barack Obama and China's President Xi Jinping met for a second day yesterday, grasping for a personal understanding that could ease often prickly US-China relations. Obama and Xi spent nearly six hours together at a secluded desert oasis in California on Friday, wrestling with the future shape of relations between America and the rising Asian giant and the new flashpoint of cyberhacking. They got back down to work yesterday morning, strolling through a lush landscape at the Sunnylands retreat together, followed by translators.

Faithful to a new, less formal tone in Sino-US ties they are trying to cultivate, they eased the dress code from Friday's business casual, with Obama in an open collared blue shirt with rolled up sleeves and brown slacks. Xi sported a white shirt, open collar and black pants. "Terrific," Obama replied, when a reporter asked how things were going. In an unusually public airing of views Friday, Xi and Obama discussed cyberhacking with reporters - following reports that Chinese Internet spies have snapped up billions of dollars in US commercial secrets as well as military designs.

Skipping the usual summit pageantry, Obama and Xi went without neckties, in a departure from the stifling formality that marked Obama's halting interactions with China's ex-president Hu Jintao. In their first meeting since Xi assumed power in March, Obama hoped for a "new model of cooperation between countries based on mutual interest and mutual respect". "It is in the United States' interests that China continues on the path of success because we believe that a peaceful and stable and prosperous China is not only good for the Chinese, but also good for the world and the United States."

Hovering over the summit at a resort once frequented by Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon was a vexing question for both countries - whether China's rise in its region and the world means an inevitable clash with the United States. Xi invited Obama to pay a return informal visit to China. Mirroring his host's theme of a new approach, Xi said: "The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China." "We're meeting here today to chart the future of China-US relations and draw a blueprint for this relationship," Xi said, next to aides in identical business casual outfits.

The two men met again yesterday morning, before Obama was to wave off Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan. Obama's wife Michelle stayed in Washington, scuppering hopes of a face-to-face between two glamorous first ladies. The US president Friday wasted no time in hitting a key theme of the visit from the US side - complaints of an alleged Chinese Internet spying effort targeting American military and commercial secrets and intellectual property. He called for "common rules of the road" to protect against hacking - a similar linguistic formulation he has used to protest against alleged Chinese currency manipulation and supposed trade abuses.

"President Xi and I recognize that, because of the incredible advances of technology, the issue of cybersecurity and the need for rules, and common approaches to security, have become increasingly important," Obama said. "It's critical, as two of the largest economies and military powers of the world, that China and the United States arrive at a firm understanding," Obama said. He said they had not yet discussed cyber-security in-depth. Ahead of the summit, the two countries announced working-level talks to clear up the issue.

Xi said he wanted "good-faith cooperation" to clear up "misgivings" by the United States about cybersecurity, telling reporters that China was also "a victim of cyberattacks". "The Chinese government is firm in upholding cybersecurity and we have major concerns about cybersecurity," Xi said, adding that recent media coverage "might give people the sense that cybersecurity as a threat mainly comes from China."

Xi, who is expected to lead China during a decade in which it will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy, reiterated his frequent, if occasionally vague, call for world powers to think differently about relations. "We need to think creatively and act energetically, so that, working together, we can build a new model of major country relationship," Xi said. The two leaders had not been expected to meet until the G20 summit in Russia in September. But both sides, sensing uncertainty seeping into a complicated and often difficult relationship, saw value in an earlier encounter. - AFP

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This article was published on 08/06/2013