Obama to have 'frank talks' with Xi

Thorny issues like cyber security, China's maritime aggression cited by US National Security Adviser

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, speaking on Monday, says US President Barack Obama will not shy away from pressing concerns in talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

United States President Barack Obama will continue "frank and comprehensive discussions" when Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the White House later in the week, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice has said.

Setting the tone for the visit, Ms Rice, in a speech at George Washington University on Monday, said the US-China relationship is "the most consequential in the world today" and noted the "larger arc of progress" in bilateral ties but also highlighted differences.

Her remarks came a day before Mr Xi was expected in Seattle, where he will meet technology and business leaders before heading to Washington, DC.

"Our story is, overwhelmingly, one of progress," said Ms Rice. "Still, the reality is we face difficult challenges. And we never shy away from pressing our concerns."

Reiterating the need for China to curb its aggression in contested waters in the East and South China seas, Ms Rice said: "We call on all claimants to reciprocally halt land reclamation, construction of new facilities and militarisation of outposts on disputed areas."

Instead, she urged China and Asean to conclude a code of conduct that countries can adhere to.

Just this month, satellite images analysed by Washington think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies showed that China appears to be building a third airstrip in disputed waters in the South China Sea. This comes after Beijing said last month it had stopped land reclamation in those waters.

Ms Rice also raised the thorny issue of cyber security, painting it as more than just a "mild irritation".

"It is an economic and national security concern to the United States... and it is a critical factor in determining the future trajectory of US-China ties," she said.

She reminded China that it "cannot expect to wield influence selectively or lead only when it's convenient, opting in or out of international norms at will".

"Everyone has to play by the same rules, regardless of size or power, because that's the way everyone can compete and be treated equally."

Director of the University of Southern California's US-China Institute Clayton Dube said Ms Rice signalled that "while President Xi can expect a polite reception, President Obama and others will be blunt in expressing discontent".

Some critics have even said the US should not host China due to outstanding differences, but Ms Rice warned that this was a "dangerous and short-sighted view".

Advocating "determined and constant engagement", she said: "If America chose to remove itself from China, we would only ensure that the Chinese are not challenged on the issues where we differ and are not encouraged to peacefully rise within the international system that we have done so much to build."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline Obama to have 'frank talks' with Xi. Subscribe