President Xi Jinping arrived in California yesterday for a two-day summit at a sprawling desert estate that is designed to cement personal ties with US counterpart Barack Obama.
The summit at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage will see the pair forgo the formalities of an official state visit and engage in talks to draw a blueprint for Sino-US ties, with Xi aiming to define his vague call for a "new type of relationship between major countries".
Obama and Xi are due to meet this morning and will also take part in a working dinner. They will hold more talks tomorrow.
They had previously not planned to meet until the G20 summit in Russia in September, but the US ambassador to China, Gary Locke, told China Central Television yesterday that Obama had invited Xi to the summit because he believed it was the right time for them to meet.
Former US treasury secretary Henry Paulson said at a forum in Chengdu yesterday that Xi and Obama needed to "build the relationship, trust themselves and reach consensus".
"It's very clear we need to reset the relations between the US and China," he said.
Xi is expected to discuss America's "pivot to Asia" and push for deeper implementation of a "new type of relationship between major countries" - a phrase Beijing has suggested as a guiding foreign policy direction, with the main aim of preventing conflicts between an established power and a rising one.
The phrase was suggested by former state councillor Dai Bingguo at the second Sino-US strategic and economic dialogue in 2010, but got widespread attention when it was repeated by Xi on a trip to the US last year, when he was vice-president.
Locke said in the interview with state-run CCTV that the two nations could co-operate in various areas, such as combatting nuclear proliferation.
"President Obama has been saying that we do not believe that an established power like the US must be in conflict with a rising power like China," Locke said. "That has been an old mentality and we reject that. We welcome working with China in a new relationship that focuses on getting things done, tackling the tough issues facing China, the US and the world."
But observers said neither nation had defined how the goal of establishing a "new type of relationship" should be achieved, leaving it a theoretical rather than a practical guideline.
"The phrase is a very vague concept, even vaguer than the concept of a 'Chinese dream'," Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong said, referring to another pet phrase of Xi. The US had not played up the "new type of relationship", probably because of its vagueness. "It is not very likely that Obama will give full endorsement to such a concept," he said.
Beijing Foreign Affairs University Professor Wang Fan said it would take a very long time for the new policy to be fully defined, but the summit would allow both sides "to exchange views and find out the obstacles to implementing the concept".
International relations specialist Professor Pang Zhongying , also from Renmin University, said Beijing was taking a proactive approach to set the tone for bilateral ties, but the US might not see it as a priority.
"Obama may only make a light mention of the phrase, and let the summit be occupied with concrete issues like cybersecurity," he said.
China's internal problems were also a reason for the vagueness of the term, he said, with the new leadership still forming its foreign affairs strategy.
Obama is expected to raise allegations of Chinese hackers targeting US networks, and US business leaders' concerns about China's economic policies.
Locke said the talks' informal nature would make them more productive than a state visit.
Additional reporting by George Chen