President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Barack Obama ended their two-day desert summit yesterday, managing to forge policy understandings in strategic issues of North Korea and climate change.
Officials from both sides said the leaders had discussed a wide range of issues at the Sunnylands Estate in an effort to build "a new model" of relations, but the two nations remained divided over cybersecurity and territorial disputes between China and its neighbours.
The leaders spent eight hours together in their first encounter since Xi became president in March, during which Xi discussed how the Cultural Revolution impacted his perspectives. As a sign of close personal ties, Obama presented Xi, who arrived back in Beijing last night, with a Californian redwood park bench.
State Councillor Yang Jiechi , summarising the summit for reporters, said that the two presidents had "an unprecedented" interaction and "did not shy away from differences".
US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said in another briefing that the talks were "successful in achieving the goals that we set forth for this meeting".
Both officials said neither country will accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, with Yang stressing the issue should be resolved through dialogue.
The two presidents agreed to make joint efforts to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners. The greenhouse gas drive was the only tangible outcome from the two-day informal summit.
On other high-stakes issues, especially cybersecurity, little seemed to have been agreed. Donilon said that Xi "acknowledged" how important the issue was to Washington as Obama warned that hacking was a theft of US property and "was going to be a very difficult problem in the economic relationship".
Yang said Xi opposed all forms of cyberspying, but claimed no responsibility for attacks against the US. "Cybersecurity should not become the root cause of mutual suspicion and frictions between our two countries. Rather, it should be a new bright spot in our co-operation," Yang added.
Concerns over the US "pivot to Asia" were also unresolved. Xi told Obama that China would resolutely protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity, while Obama urged Xi to de-escalate the dispute with Japan over islets in the East China Sea.
Xi called on the US to end arms sales to Taiwan and remove restrictions on hi-tech exports to China. And he told Obama that Beijing's control of the yuan was not the root cause of imbalanced trade between the nations.
"It is quite possible the talks achieved nothing, with both sides presenting their positions and neither convincing the other to change," said Denny Roy, of the East-West Centre in Hawaii.
Beijing Foreign Affairs University Professor Wang Fan said China was well aware of the differences in strategic concerns between the nations, and Xi had sent a firm message to Obama. "China would pay no regard to Sino-US relations were the core issue of territorial integrity not respected," Wang said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters