Obama welcomes Xi for tricky state visit

President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during the official welcoming ceremony at the White House yesterday. Mr Xi was given a 21-gun salute and a ceremonial state dinner. The two leaders also held more casual talks at an earlie
President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during the official welcoming ceremony at the White House yesterday. Mr Xi was given a 21-gun salute and a ceremonial state dinner. The two leaders also held more casual talks at an earlier private dinner.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama offered Mr Xi Jinping a warm welcome at the White House on Thursday, greeting his Chinese counterpart with a "ni hao", or Mandarin for "how are you?", at the start of a tricky state visit.

The pair kicked off Mr Xi's first state visit by shedding their ties and strolling out of the West Wing and across Pennsylvania Avenue to Blair House. Officials hope that by starting with a casual meeting and and a private dinner on Thursday, the leaders will find time for a less staid exchange of views.

Mr Xi was given a 21-gun salute and a ceremonial state dinner yesterday, in a symbolic statement that will let him show the Chinese people that he and his country are being treated as a great power.

CONTEXT FOR ISSUES

...Those world views are very different. And that's part of why I think the conversations are useful and important, because it provides a context for all these issues.

SENIOR OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY AIDE BEN RHODES, on how the informal dinner on Thursday was a chance for the leaders of the world's two superpowers to get a glimpse into the other's world view

White House chefs created "original dishes that highlight American cuisine with nuances of Chinese flavours" for the dinner, the White House said on Thursday.

At the dinner, the 10th one hosted by the Obama administration, guests had a taste of, among other dishes, butter-poached Maine lobster and grilled Colorado lamb, as well as a dessert display featuring a Chinese-style chocolate pavilion and bridge. Traditional Chinese Shaoxing wine was served as guests enjoyed their starter, wild mushroom soup with black truffle, according to the official menu provided by the White House.

But US officials admit the litany of problems now plaguing US-China relations and doubts over Mr Xi's commitment to a "peaceful rise" are unlikely to be resolved over the sumptuous fare. "Far and away, the most constructive engagements they've had have been in their private dinners," said senior Obama national security aide Ben Rhodes.

Thursday's informal dinner was an opportunity, Mr Rhodes said, to "put aside the talking points and actually get a window into one another's world view."

"And those world views are very different. And that's part of why I think the conversations are useful and important, because it provides a context for all these issues," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Obama welcomes Xi for tricky state visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe