Obama pushes China on currency, human rights

President Obama wrapped up his tour of Asian countries, which included stops in Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea. He addressed security and environmental policy, the economy and U.S.-Asia relations.
By Andrew Higgins and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 17, 2009; 9:32 AM

BEIJING -- Describing ties with China as "never more important to our collective future," President Obama on Tuesday mixed praise for Chinese economic triumphs with gentle prodding on its currency, human rights and Tibet.

Talks in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao produced pledges of cooperation on climate change, the economy and even military relations but yielded no breakthroughs on the many global headaches that Washington wants Beijing to help relieve.

A stiff joint appearance by Obama and Hu in the Great Hall of the People overlooking Tiananmen Square crystallized the state of the relationship between the two world powers: increasingly important to both countries, but also curiously bereft of warmth or intimacy.

Hu, speaking first, 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 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."

"I spoke to President Hu about America's bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights," Obama said. "We do not believe these principles are unique to America, but rather they are universal rights and that they should be available to all peoples, to all ethnic and religious minorities. And our two countries agreed to continue to move this discussion forward in a human rights dialogue that is scheduled for early next year."

Later, serenaded by the People's Liberation Army, Obama attended a state dinner hosted by Hu in his honor Tuesday night, the major social event of his eight-day swing through Asia.

The military band played some American tunes, including "We Are the World," "In the Mood" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman and the rest of the delegation dined on Chinese-style beef steak, stir-fried wild rice stem, roast grouper and ice cream.

But the event did not stretch into the wee hours. Obama was back at his hotel by 8:40 p.m. local time.

In their earlier joint appearance, Obama and Hu each read prepared remarks and stood impassively while the other spoke. At the end of what was billed as a news conference, the two presidents left without taking a single question from reporters, hurrying away from a podium decked with Chinese and American flags.

Chinese state-run television carried the joint appearance live, including Obama's pitch for "universal rights" and talks between Beijing and Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The broadcast contrasted with limited Chinese media coverage of Obama's tightly choreographed town hall-style meeting with Chinese students in Shanghai on Monday.

But the official Chinese news coverage that followed Tuesday's Great Hall of the People event focused on one part of Obama's message: that the United States accepts Tibet as part of China. "Obama says U.S. recognizes Tibet as part of China," read the headline on China's state-run New China News Agency, ignoring his repeated call for universal human rights.

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