White House stresses personal side of Obama-Xi summit

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House on Tuesday styled the first summit between President Barack Obama and China's Xi Jinping next month as a uniquely personal encounter offering each man the chance to size the other up.

Mr Obama and President Xi will meet on June 7-8 at the secluded Annenberg Estate in Palm Springs, California, for the first time since Mr Xi took the full reins of power in China and the US leader was elected to a second term.

The summit will be stripped of the normal pomp that accompanies visits to the United States by Chinese leaders and is being billed as a chance for the two men to establish a personal working relationship.

Washington appears to hope that Mr Obama will be able to forge an easier connection with Mr Xi than the stilted relationship he had with former president Hu Jintao, which rarely deviated from scripted talking points.

Mr Obama and Mr Xi met in the Oval Office when the latter was in Washington last year on a visit hosted by Vice-President Joe Biden, and which was intended to smooth the way to the next era of crucial US-China relations.

Mr Obama's national security advisor Tom Donilon traveled to Beijing to prepare the groundwork for the summit and met Mr Xi personally earlier Tuesday.

Mr Donilon stressed the summit was "a unique and important opportunity" to talk about US-China relations and regional and global affairs, said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Mr Xi earlier told Mr Donilon in Beijing that the relationship between Washington and rising China was at a "critical juncture." He said he looked forward to the opportunity to meet Obama and "have extensive and deep discussions about major strategic issues."

Mr Hayden said the talks in California would include climate change and North Korea's nuclear challenge, and also cyber-security, amid new claims - denied in Beijing - that China is hacking US defence and commercial firms.

China has been irked by the implications of a "pivot" to Asia engineered by Obama's foreign policy team, including a rebalancing of American forces to the region and the positioning of a detachment of US Marines in Australia.

There have also been tensions between Washington and China over Beijing's territorial disputes with Japan and South-east Asian neighbors that have prompted some to seek assistance from Washington.

And there are also differences over how to handle the civil war in Syria.

Washington has meanwhile been urging Beijing to do more to rein in its nominal ally North Korea, after a series of threats of nuclear wear.

Mr Donilon's trip to China follows recent visits from several top US officials, including Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in March and US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey and Secretary of State John Kerry in April.