By Keith B. Richburg
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
BEIJING -- President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, emerged from two hours of talks Tuesday morning pledging to continue efforts to strengthen the growing partnership between the two countries, and to work together to address global challenges such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and sustaining the world's nascent economic recovery.
Hu, speaking first, called the talks "candid, constructive and very fruitful," and said the two leaders agreed "to stay in close touch, through visits, telephone conversations, correspondence, and meetings at international forums."
He also said that as the world economy "has shown some positive signs of stabilizing and recovering," it is important for both countries to "oppose and reject protectionism in all its forms."
Obama also called climate change and nuclear proliferation "challenges that neither of our nations can solve by acting alone." He said the two will continue to "build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship."
Confronting the sensitive issue of human rights, Obama said American values of freedom of speech and assembly are "universal rights, and they should be made available to all people." He said the two sides agreed to "continue to move this discussion forward," specifically in an upcoming human rights dialogue next year.
Obama said the two sides agreed to seek a "more balanced economic growth" in the future, in which the United States "saves more, spends less and reduced long-term debt." In exchange, he said, China agreed to increase its domestic demand, meaning relying less on its cheap currency to drive exports. The United States is now China's most important export market, while China is the largest holder of U.S. debt.
"This will lead to increased U.S. exports and jobs on the one hand, and higher living standards in China on the other," Obama said.
On climate change, Obama said the two leaders agreed on "a series of important new initiatives," including the establishment of a joint clean energy research center. Obama said that "there can be no solution to that challenge without the efforts of both China and the United States."
The two leaders took no questions, as had been planned, after their statements.
"I'm very happy to have talks with you," Hu told Obama at the start of the meeting. "You have worked actively to promote this relationship."
Obama replied, "We believe strong dialogue is important not only for the U.S. and China, but for the rest of the world."
The two already met once over dinner Monday night, shortly after Obama arrived in the frigid Chinese capital from Shanghai. National security adviser James L. Jones described that meeting between as an "informal dinner discussion" in which the two leaders discussed "the evolution and histories of China and the United States."
Jones said the two also spoke at length about education, but he did not elaborate.
Reflecting the broad range of issues that have come to characterize relations between the two countries, some of the sensitive topics that have dominated U.S.-Chinese talks in the past now seem further down the agenda.
China ritualistically complains about American support for Taiwan, for example. But now that China's own economic links with Taiwan are deepening under the island's Nationalist government, the two have established the first direct air links and tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased considerably.
Likewise, Obama is under the microscope on whether he intends to take up the issue of human rights more directly than he has so far. Human rights activists were alarmed when he did not meet with the Dalai Lama in Washington last month, and when Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to play down the issue of human rights during her first official visit to Beijing as secretary of state eight months ago.
Obama gave a sense of how he intends to ever-so-delicately chide China on the question of more openness without being confrontational. In a town-hall-style meeting in Shanghai, with a group of students selected by the Chinese government, the president extolled the virtues of "freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation" that he said "we believe are universal rights."
But Obama was also careful to say that the United States is not seeking to impose its system of government on any other country. And he went to some lengths to assure the audience that the United States welcomes China's rise as a new power and has no interest in trying to contain it.
When asked about China's control of the Internet through a "firewall" that blocks access to certain popular Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Obama was measured, not criticizing his hosts directly. "I've always been a strong supporter of open Internet use," he said. "I'm a big supporter of non-censorship."
Yet even that calibrated response appeared too much for China's leaders, who censored the president's remarks. No mention was made of the Shanghai town hall forum on the country's main national news broadcast Monday night, and news of Obama's arrival was relegated to less than a minute, in the seventh story spot.
Most Chinese never heard the president's remarks, because the only television station to carry it live, Shanghai Television, has limited reach, and the station's normally live Web site showed a children's program instead. Also, news sites that posted stories about Obama's remarks on Internet freedom deleted them about an hour later.