Xi Jinping

Xi-Obama summit highlighted nations' different concerns

In their attempt to present a united front, leaders barely touched on sources of friction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 3:23am

The recent summit between President Xi Jinping and US counterpart Barack Obama highlighted the two nations' different strategic concerns, even though the leaders attempted to present a united front.

The summit at a retreat in California ended with China and the United States both painting a positive picture of future ties - vowing to build a "new model of major country relationships" not focused on confrontation.

In eight hours of talks, Xi and Obama touched only lightly on longstanding sources of friction that have dominated previous high-level meetings between the countries, such as China's currency policy, the bilateral trade imbalance and human rights.

But that does not mean such frictions have been resolved and they may flare up again at next month's Sino-US strategic and economic dialogue in the US.

"The two nations have a deep mistrust of each other because they are engaged in competition or even confrontation on certain issues," said Professor Su Hao from China Foreign Affairs University. "The two leaders did not want to discuss too many specific issues at the summit. They wanted to enhance trust and settle strategic security issues first before proceeding to settle other frictions."

For the US, the issue of cybersecurity and allegations that Chinese institutions hacked into American networks remain near the top of the agenda. Beijing has denied responsibility for the cyberattacks and the two nations have established a working group to address the issue under the strategic and economic dialogue.

"The US fears that China is stealing its technology and other secrets to boost its development, which may challenge the US," Su said.

For China, America's strategic "pivot" to Asia remains the top focus, with Xi urging all parties in the Asia-Pacific region not to take provocative action to stir up territorial disputes between China and its neighbours.

Professor Jia Xiudong , from the China Institute of International Studies, said the leaders attempted to show that a broad consensus had emerged from their talks. However, even though they pledged to build a "new model" relationship, their nations did not have common visions of how that goal should be accomplished.

Professor Pang Zhongying , an international relations specialist at Renmin University, said the emphasis on the "new model of major country relationships" could become a challenge for Beijing because it might mean that China would need to share more responsibility on the global stage.

"Getting the new model done is not easy, and cautious planning is needed," he said.

Even though Beijing said the "new model" concept also applies to its relationships with other countries, teaming up with the US has triggered concerns about the emergence of a new kind of G-2 alliance - something that Beijing has rejected because it would eventually lead to China no longer being regarded as a developing nation.

With China demanding reform of global institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, and expanding its scope to distant regions such as Africa, countries have already begun demanding that China accept more international obligations as a major nation.

"China has mixed feelings about taking on leadership," said Patrick Chovanec, a former political aide to senior Republicans in the US. "It has to fulfil expectations to deliver international public goods, instead of focusing on what's good for China."

But Professor Jia Qingguo , a Peking University international relations specialist, said China was prepared for more international responsibility, and the "new model" concept gave it more global influence.

Clayton Dube, executive director of the University of Southern California's US-China Institute, said China wanted the US to accept Chinese dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, but the US found China's territorial claims at odds with regional stability and development.

"Because those claims and rules run against American treaty obligations and interests … America is unlikely to accept the Chinese claims or rules," he said.