Obama, Xi Discuss Climate Change and Cybersecurity

As the “casualCalifornia summit between Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama comes to an end, there is little evidence of concrete progress on a range of issues. Hailed as an opportunity for the two leaders to get to know each other, and not conduct formal negotiations, the most obvious “deliverables” from the summit were photos showing the two men strolling around the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, CA (and a California redwood bench that Obama presented to Xi). From the New York Times:

Although the leaders of the world’s two biggest powers made no public statements on their second day of talks, their disagreements — over cyberattacks as well as arms sales to Taiwan, maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea and manipulation of the Chinese currency — spilled into the open when senior officials from both countries emerged to describe the meetings in detail.

From the outset, the White House said the purpose of the meetings here was not to announce new deals or understandings — “deliverables,” in diplomatic parlance — but to create a more comfortable relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi, who took full power in March, that could avoid plunging the two nations into escalating conflict.

Even so, the White House announced that the two countries had reached at least one concrete accord that environmentalists welcomed as a potential step in combating climate change. China and the United States agreed to discuss ways to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, known as HFCs, that are used in refrigerants and insulating foams.

[…] The two presidents met for nearly eight hours beginning Friday evening, and appeared eager to redefine the relationship in a way that would allow their countries to overcome their economic, political and diplomatic differences, rather than letting new — or old — crises derail progress across the spectrum of issues. [Source]

Reuters has more on the HFCs deal:

“The United States and China will work together and with other countries to use the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons,” the White House said on the second day of the informal U.S.-China summit in Southern California.

U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon told reporters the two countries had done most of the work in advance of the California meeting on Friday and Saturday, when the two presidents discussed climate change.

“It was agreed that we have strong joint interests in addressing the climate issue … from a lot of perspectives including sustainable economic growth,” he told reporters.

HFCs are used in refrigerators and air conditioners. They came into wide commercial use to replace ozone-depleting chemicals that are being phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, but they are a big source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. [Source]

Less progress was announced on cybersecurity, an issue that has taken on a new layer of complexity following revelations of the extent of the U.S. government’s own Internet surveillance programs. From NBC News:

Earlier in the day, Obama defended the U.S. National Security Agency’s collection of so-called metadata from telephone and Internet companies from strongly worded accusations that it amounted to unconstitutional secret spying on U.S. citizens.

That made for a delicate situation Friday night as Obama spoke to reporters after an evening meeting with Xi.

Obama said he and Xi agreed that it was important for China and the U.S. to come up with common rules on . But when asked about reports linking cyberattacks back to hackers associated with the government in Beijing, he said caution was needed because hacking often involved “non-state actors.” [Source]

Despite cybersecurity being hailed as a top agenda item at the meetings, Obama said they had approached it only “at the 40,000-foot level.” From the Washington Post:

Although U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about China’s hacking of private records of American companies, both Obama and Xi, publicly at least, stopped short of directly confronting the contentious issue.

When a U.S. journalist pressed Xi on the cyber-spying, the Chinese leader asserted that China, too, is a victim of such attacks — and he faulted the news media with leaving what he considers a misleading impression that the threat comes mostly from China. Xi pledged to resolve concerns with the United States “in a pragmatic way.” [Source]

The two leaders also agreed to work together to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. From the Telegraph:

“They agreed that North Korea has to denuclearize, that neither country will accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and that we would work together to deepen cooperation and dialogue to achieve denuclearization,” White House national security adviser Tom Donilon told reporters.

Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi told a separate news conference that Mr Xi had told Mr Obama that China and the United States were “the same in their positions and objectives” on the North Korean nuclear issue. China is Pyongyang’s ally but has become increasingly concerned at North Korean threats of war against South Korea. [Source]

From Al Jazeera:

Read the full text of remarks by Obama and Xi at the conclusion of their talks and an editorial from the Global Times, “Milestone expected in Sino-US ties.”

Read more about the summit via CDT.