Barrister Harunur Rashid
|US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk at the Annenberg Retreat of the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California.
US President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping ended a two-day summit described by a US official as “unique, positive and constructive”.
The two leaders spent nearly six hours together on 7th June and another three hours on 8th June morning at the sprawling Sunnylands retreat in California.
The officials said the “fast on his feet” style of President Xi Jinping would loosen the stifling formality of past summits and encourage the parties to talk candidly about their differences.
Analysts say that the purpose of the summit was to know each other so that they could do business with each other.
Personal chemistry between leaders means a lot in major power relations. So the two Presidents –-- Barack Obama and Xi Jinping –-- could end up seeking common ground, focussing on shared interests before dealing with serious bilateral, regional and global issues.
Both leaders like basketball and reading books. Obama was one-time book reviewer for the Chicago Tribune. News that he is reading a particular book is known to boost sales.
Hundreds of articles
Chinese President wrote hundreds of articles for the Zhejiang Daily under the pen name, Zhexin. His column was said to have discussed the “everyday problems of interest to the common people”, according to China’s state-run media.
Normally, U.S.-China leaders’ meetings have wide ranging agenda and very little time to cover them. The California summit reportedly allowed ample time to pursue topics in depth, including an extended exchange of views. This format evidently reflects Xi’s considerable confidence in handling the dynamics of an open-ended discussion.
This was not a summit in which to strike agreements. Rather, it was an opportunity to reach accord on the process and substance of future dialogue on key issues.
Analysts say that the outcome of summit would be deemed successful if it went down the line on some of the key issues described below:
They agreed that North Korea has to denuclearise, that neither country will accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and that both countries would work together to deepen co-operation and dialogue to achieve denuclearisation. The U.S. and China have never held a bilateral dialogue on uncertainties about future developments in North Korea.
Observers say that there is little utility in complaining about Chinese efforts to steal U.S. political and military secrets –-- all nations do that, and none would ever agree to limit these efforts.
The scope and scale of Chinese hacking of secrets from the U.S. private sector have imposed impediments on U.S. jobs, competitiveness, investment, and innovation.
Obama should highlight the importance of cooperation to defend against attacks on critical infrastructure by terrorist organizations that threatened both the countries. And he should encourage U.S.-China cooperation on combating criminal activity that utilizes cyber tools –-- such as money laundering, financial scams and child pornography.
America has the most advanced tools and capabilities, and the Chinese political and financial systems largely run on American software. China assumes the U.S. uses that huge capability to its advantage.
After the talks concluded, the US National Security Adviser Donilon told a press conference that President Obama had described to Mr Xi the types of problems the US has faced from cyber-intrusion and theft of intellectual property.
He gave no details but said Mr Obama underscored that Washington had no doubt that the intrusions were coming from inside China.
Earlier, Mr Xi’s senior foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi told reporters that China wanted co-operation rather than friction with the US over cyber-security.
Global climate change
Air pollution is now a political and health issue of central importance in China, and Beijing’s leaders have made clear that they will move bureaucratic mountains to take effective steps to deal with this.
Observers say that the two presidents should agree to give high priority to U.S.-China cooperation on major, high impact projects that would both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate air pollution. They would cooperate in concluding a global treaty by 2015 under the auspices of the UN Global Climate Change Conference.
After the talks, the White House issued a statement saying the two nations had agreed to work together for the first time to reduce hydro-fluorocarbons --- a potent greenhouse gas.
Stability in Asia Pacific region
The Asia Pacific region has been an arena of growing U.S.-China tension and distrust in the past few years. President Obama desires to re-balance its strategy in the Asia Pacific where 60 percent of its naval assets would be deployed in the region for long-term Asian peace and economic progress with full American participation in both generating and benefiting from that outcome.
China maintains that it is at the centre of Asia Pacific region and therefore inevitably, in any regional strategy China will play a key role. China perceivesthat the US strategy is targeted against it and seeks to complicate, slow down, and perhaps even disrupt China’s rise.
In the past, Obama reportedly said: “I absolutely believe China’s peaceful rise is good for the world and it’s good for America. We just want to make sure that that rise occurs in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules, and enhances security”
The California meeting was a critical opportunity for President Obama to explain America’s strategy and goals in the Asia Pacific region and what role China could play.
On the other hand, Xi Jinping needed to lay out his own core priorities in the region and how he anticipated handling such key issues as maritime territorial disputes in the East and South China Sea . Xi has played a very active role in shaping China’s regional actions over the past year, and it is important for him to convey to the US how he sees both next steps and longer term objective Ideally, this discussion would lead to an ongoing high level U.S.-China political and military dialogue over respective goals and related force postures in the region, using a five-to-ten year time horizon. Such a dialogue might mitigate current pressures trending toward an arms race in the region.
It might also make it easier to expand relations between the U.S. and Chinese militaries that, despite some recent enhancements, remain far behind the interactions that have long existed in the non-military aspects of U.S.-China relations.
Economic and trade issues
The US and China are the world’s two largest economies. The US runs a huge trade deficit with China, which hit an all-time high of $315bn (£204bn) last year.
Last week, the Chinese firm Shuanghui agreed to buy US pork producer Smithfield for $4.7bn (£3.1bn) --- the largest takeover of a US company by a Chinese rival.The deal highlights the growing power of Chinese firms and their desire to secure global resources.
The trade issues are important and wide ranging. U.S. bilateral concerns focus especially on market access and protection of intellectual property (related to cyber security). Chinese concerns focus on security reviews of investments in the U.S. and on American restrictions on technology exports to China.
President Xi apparently now wants to carry out structural economic reforms in China that should in many cases allow for greater and more effective U.S. participation.
Both countries have their long-term trade and investment goals for the Asia-Pacific region and to gain a better understanding of trade programmes, China appears to be agreeable to join to a common Asia-Pacific platform that will reduce trade barriers through free trade agreement in the Asia Pacific region, such as the US sponsored TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership ) free trade agreement for the region.
Dangers of escalation
Professor Hugh White, department of strategic studies at the Australian National University, writes in the Wall Street Journal: “From the outset, both leaders must also recognize the dangers of choosing escalation over accommodation. China’s economic miracle will falter if the U.S. treats Beijing as an outright adversary, and similarly America’s economic future can only be bleak without China. Each state could drive the other to Cold-War levels of defense spending, or even incite outright armed conflict…..Xi and Obama can probably do no more than agree that an accommodation is necessary and commit to explore what it might look like. But the essence of such an understanding is clear. Both sides will need to agree to share power as equals".
BBC’s Mark Mardell writes: “It perhaps sounds overly dramatic to suggest the purpose of the Sunnylands summit was to avoid World War III, but it is certainly aimed at making sure both sides know the flashpoints, and talk about them, long before disagreements degenerate into something worse.”
Many analysts say the informal summit could prove very significant, if it became the venue for a more strategic discussion of issues relating to U.S.-China relations.
The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.