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Obama meets with China’s president as climate summit begins

President Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (Evan Vucci/AP)
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PARIS — President Obama kicked off his day at the Paris climate summit with a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, hailing the two nations for their work on climate change but urging greater Chinese cooperation on cyber-crime and “maritime” issues that include China’s military construction on disputed reefs in the South China Sea.

In remarks before the session, Obama stressed the importance of cooperation between the world’s two largest economies and greenhouse gas emitters, saying that “nowhere has that cooperation been more necessary and more fruitful” than on climate change.

Putting China first on the schedule was an indication of China’s central role on global issues such as climate change. It was just a year ago that Obama and Xi vowed to set definite limits on the levels of greenhouse gas emissions, laying the foundation for other countries to follow suit. On Monday Obama said, “our leadership on this issue has been absolutely vital.”

Other highlights of Obama’s day here include a brief speech, a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi, and the formal unveiling of an initiative to boost research and development spending on new technologies, led by Bill Gates and a score of private investors and by 19 countries that vowed to double their R&D spending.

Climate activists in Paris laid out thousands of pairs of shoes as a silent protest, after demonstrations were banned by French authorities. (Video: Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

Obama is one of about 150 world leaders here for the Paris climate summit – formally known as the 21st Conference of Participants.  In the wake of terrorist attacks just two weeks ago, the conference has become a major security challenge and Parisians have been told they cannot drive in the city Monday or Tuesday.

After arriving in Paris on Sunday, President Obama’s motorcade glided along the Seine through largely deserted streets before stopping in front of Le Bataclan, the concert hall where scores of people were killed in the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13.

Flanked by French President Francois Hollande and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, Obama placed a white rose on the street in front of the concert hall, making a small addition to the mound of flowers and candles there. After standing for a minute of silence with his hands folded before him, Obama walked away, briefly placing a hand on the shoulders of Hollande and Hidalgo.

Obama hopes to use his two days at the summit as a way of celebrating achievements made over the past several months, as well as negotiating with countries such as India, which is pressing for greater financial assistance and technology transfer.

The United States today announced that it will contribute $51.2 million to a $248 million Least Developed Countries Fund to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change. Germany is the largest of 11 donors to the fund.

Obama also hopes to use the opportunity to have short bilateral meetings with leaders on other issues. The U.S. president said he and Xi had “developed a candid way” of talking about differences. In addition to dealing with cyber issues and the South China Sea, Obama said he also wanted to discuss how China can help support efforts to fight the Islamic State. And Obama offered condolences for the killing of a Chinese hostage by the Islamic State.

“There is far more that the United Sates and China have in common than separates us”, he said