View from China: Expectations exceeded with key pledges

After a lead-up filled with nervous speculation about US sanctions against its firms and individuals, China will be pleased with the progress made between its leader and the American president, analysts say.

The meeting on Friday between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Barack Obama yielded agreements on climate change and cyber security, while avoiding confrontation over thorny issues such as China's territorial rights in the disputed South China Sea.

After six meetings in three years, the duo appear to have successfully set the tone for a relationship that, despite differences, remains stable.


"Considering the prior tensions and the impact that good US-China relations have on the rest of the world, it's important not to understate displays of cooperation between the two countries," noted Dr Wang Fan from China Foreign Affairs University.

Just like at their last meeting in Beijing in November last year, when they unexpectedly unveiled an ambitious plan to curb carbon emissions, China and the US have also exceeded expectations this time with several important pledges, said foreign policy expert Wang Dong. One of the key achievements was restarting a dialogue mechanism between the two countries on cyber security, after China cut off ties last year to a US-China joint working group on this issue following the indictment of five purported hackers from the People's Liberation Army.

This has added significance given the initial negativity, with the US said to have been preparing sanctions against Chinese firms for alleged cyber espionage in the lead-up to the talks, Dr Wang Dong noted.

On climate change, China will launch a national market-based cap-and-trade system to limit emissions from some of its largest sectors.

"It's reassuring to see that the two leaders can put aside rhetoric and have the vision and political will to push for cooperation while managing their differences," Dr Wang Dong said.

He added that the trip would play out well back home, with Mr Xi "showing himself as a world leader who's able to manage and provide a vision for the US-China relationship as well as bring concrete benefits to both countries". Some experts say one disappointment could be the inability to finalise a bilateral investment treaty.

Still, Peking University's international relations expert Zha Dajiong feels that China has developed a better understanding of the complexities in the bilateral relationship. He noted that China has been able to project a "level of manageability" in its ties with the US under the leadership of Mr Xi, who took power three years ago. This would have been one of the main goals of Mr Xi's visit, he added.

The Chinese media has highlighted the warm welcome for Mr Xi and played up the softer sides of the visit, such as the two leaders striding casually across the White House lawn without neckties and the presence of Chinese Shaoxing rice wine at the state dinner.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline 'View from China: Expectations exceeded with key pledges '. Print Edition | Subscribe