Obama and Xi have intensive meeting, find cordial ground

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) speaks to the media in front of U.S. and Chinese national flags during a joint news conference with China's President Xi Jinping (right) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS&
U.S. President Barack Obama (left) speaks to the media in front of U.S. and Chinese national flags during a joint news conference with China's President Xi Jinping (right) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

China and the US have found common ground on a slew of issues ranging from tackling climate change to increased military cooperation, allaying concerns that the "strategic mistrust" that has frayed ties over the past year had become insurmountable.

At a joint news conference with his US counterpart Barack Obama in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that military-to-military relationship between the world's two largest economies will be bolstered with “confidence-building” measures. 

This includes each side notifying the other of upcoming military exercises and rules for behaviour when there are close encounters between the United States and Chinese air or naval forces, according to a White House statement.

These concerns arose from a near collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a US Navy surveillance plane in August, which led to quickening talks between the two sides on avoiding a mishap that could trigger a broader crisis in relations. But relations have also turned frosty since the 2013 Sunnylands summit where both leaders previously met as both sides clashed on issues ranging from cyberspying to US involvement in China's maritime spats with its neighbours.

Mr Xi and Mr Obama also announced a new deal that will allow the world’s top two CO2 emitters to better tackle climate change. China will aim to reach peak CO2 emissions by “around 2030” and strive to achieve the target earlier, while the US would slash emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent from the 2005 level. This is the first time China has committed to a target.

But both men clashed over pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong with Mr Obama saying the US wanted to encourage free and fair elections and Mr Xi saying the issues in the territory were an internal Chinese affair.

“I was unequivocal in saying that the US had no involvement in fostering the protests that took place in Hong Kong,” Mr Obama told reporters at the press conference.

“These are issues ultimately for the people of Hong Kong and China to decide,” he said. “But I did make clear that US will encourage people’s right to express themselves and that elections in Hong Kong are reflective of the will of the people there.”

Mr Obama's state visit to China began on Tuesday evening with a stroll in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in chilly weather after the close of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Beijing. 

He took part in a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People today and will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before flying off to Myanmar capital Naypyitaw for the East Asia Summit.

esthert@sph.com.sg