Hu, Obama try to put tense ties behind them in meeting
Ng Tze-wei in Seoul
Chinese and US leaders tried to set a cordial tone yesterday at the start of the G20 summit following a tense period in bilateral relations.
President Hu Jintao arrived yesterday morning and immediately walked into back-to-back bilateral meetings with South Korea, the United States and Russia. He then attended the opening of the Group of 20 summit at a working dinner with all the participating leaders.
Concerns are running high that the G20 summit in Seoul - the first time it is being held in an Asian country and an emerging economy - will be reduced to a showdown between China and the US, which have been spouting rhetoric accusing each other of causing the financial crisis.
But yesterday, both sides emphasised the will to work together at the summit.
'The Chinese side stands ready to work with the US side to increase dialogue, exchanges and co-operation so that we can move forward the China-US relationship on a positive, co-operative and comprehensive track,' Hu said.
He officially accepted a US invitation for a state visit in January - a trip long delayed because of tension this year over arms sales to Taiwan, the yuan and sovereignty disputes in the East and South China seas. Analysts believe both sides will try to create a friendlier environment ahead of Hu's visit.
Hu reiterated the need to respect each other's 'core interests' and called for closer co-operation as the two nations faced 'fast-changing international and regional challenges'.
US President Barack Obama said it was good to meet Hu again - the seventh time since he took office in January last year - and said Sino-US relations had grown stronger in recent years.
US officials said the meeting centred on the yuan, but Hu and Obama also discussed the nuclear situations in North Korea and Iran. 'As two leading nuclear powers, obviously we have a special obligation to deal with nuclear proliferation,' Obama said. 'As two of the world's leading economies, we have a special obligation to deal with ensuring strong, balance and sustained growth.'
Dr Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Chinese delegation, said the meeting was constructive and that China had come to the G20 summit with the aim of co-operating.
US media reports said Obama discussed human rights with Hu, but it was unclear whether he brought up the case of jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. World leaders are under pressure from rights groups to make their stand known to China.
Fifteen past Nobel Peace laureates have written an open letter to G20 leaders to call for Liu's release.
In the meeting between Hu and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, the two leaders renewed their commitment to a strong and rapidly growing trade relationship. Bilateral trade was up 36.7 per cent year on year by September. The two also discussed the nuclear situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Hu and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose last meeting took place in Beijing at the end of September, agreed yesterday to deepen their strategic partnership and vowed solidarity on the position of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in global financial reform.
At dinner, Hu sat between Medvedev and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan sat in a corner far from Hu. Chinese diplomats have responded coldly to the idea of a meeting between Hu and Kan in Seoul or at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit this weekend in Yokohoma, Japan.