News / Asia

China-US Summit to be Casual, Not Relaxed

President Barack Obama meets with China then-Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Washington, Feb., 14, 2012.President Barack Obama meets with China then-Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Washington, Feb., 14, 2012.
x
President Barack Obama meets with China then-Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Washington, Feb., 14, 2012.
President Barack Obama meets with China then-Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Washington, Feb., 14, 2012.
Reuters
Meetings between leaders of the United States and China have mostly been dour, orchestrated affairs conducted by teams of men in dark suits. But China's new President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama are shedding the script and neckties for their first summit, an informal get-together this week in the California desert.
 
Since President Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972, which broke decades of estrangement between the two countries, the summits have been carefully plotted rituals. One exception has been a visit by President Jiang Zemin to George W. Bush's ranch in Texas in 2002, but it was only for a few hours.
 
But an informal setting suits both Obama and Xi and the payoff could be huge if they can build a rapport that brings the world's top two economies closer. Nevertheless, the short-sleeves meeting is shaping up as anything but relaxing — the two sides have to overcome differences on cyber-security, the South China Sea, North Korea and other issues.
 
"You'd never imagine that other Chinese leaders would agree to such a kind of meeting," said Ruan Zongze, a former Chinese diplomat, of the summit at a lush private estate called "Sunnylands" in the resort community of Rancho Mirage.
 
"That's a very important message to the Americans: That we'd like to engage, we'd like to have discussions with them. I think Xi is more accessible and this will be a very good opportunity for Xi and Obama to build a better personal relationship," said Ruan, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank linked to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
 
Such an informal setting would appear to play more to Obama's strengths. But if any Chinese leader has a shot at matching Obama in the charm stakes, it's Xi, who took over from the notoriously wooden Hu Jintao as Communist Party leader late last year and as president in March.
 
According to U.S. officials at the time, Hu declined Bush's offer in 2006 for a laid-back meeting at his ranch home, something many other foreign leaders would have welcomed. Hu preferred the decorum of the White House.
 
Unlike the baby-kissing politicians of the West, China's Communist Party works hard to keep its top leaders from appearing too human — to the extent that for many, even their official birth dates and the names of their children are regarded as a state secret.
 
Xi, though, has cultivated a casual image, appearing relaxed in public, occasionally speaking off the cuff and making sure there is less pomp when Chinese officials make trips.
 
On a visit to the city of Shenzhen last year he chose to be ferried around in a minibus rather than a presidential sedan and broke from script to shake hands with locals, almost unheard of by a senior Chinese leader.
 
Xi's glamorous wife, Peng Liyuan, will share the limelight, much as Michelle Obama does with her husband. Peng, a famous singer, made a splash travelling with Xi to Russia and Africa in March, breaking the mold of Chinese first wives who have traditionally kept out of the limelight.
 
One-on-one

The June 7-8 summit meetings will be held at Sunnylands, the 1960s-era winter home of philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg, which they hoped one day would become a 'Camp David of the West.'
 
The schedule is designed for Xi and Obama to have time to get to know each other, U.S. government sources said. Between group meetings the two are expected to have some one-on-one time among the manicured gardens and walking paths at the estate.
 
"The [new] Chinese leadership seemed to be off to a rather quick start... We calculated that, and interestingly, the Chinese agreed to do something we hadn't done before, which was to create an informal menu that would allow the leaders to talk — and actually to really talk — and be able to do so over the span of two different days," a senior U.S. official said.
 
"This meeting should allow them to talk about the issues in a way that diverts from the tradition of dueling talking points, where a Chinese leader reads from a script and an American leader responds on fairly predictable lines."
 
Nevertheless, the official said it would be wrong to look at the summit as if it were "a slot machine and at the end it's going to pay out in tokens of deliverables."
 
"What we are doing and what the Chinese are doing is to try for greater convergence and also to try to avert some of the more problematic and more confrontational possibilities in the relationship."
 
Delegates to a regional security meeting in Singapore at the weekend also said the Chinese military officials there came ready to talk, with a new sense of openness and charm.
 
Xi and Obama are well matched for a no-neckties business meeting, said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, who has advised the government on relations with the United States.
 
"Obama is a great performer. He can be relaxed, but also hard-nosed. Xi is the same," said Shi.
 
For much of his first term, Obama put less emphasis on forging close personal bonds with other world leaders than his back-slapping predecessor, Bush. Bush often invited leaders to his ranch or the Camp David presidential retreat for extra face time.
 
Obama has rarely gone that far, but he has shown an ability to turn on the charm when he sees fit, as he did in his March visit to Israel where he struck a chummier tone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
 
The California meeting was tacked on to the tail end of Xi's state visits to Mexico, Costa Rica and Trinidad. Both Beijing and Washington saw value in the rendezvous even though in the second half of the year, Obama and Xi will have at least three chances to meet, starting with September's G20 meeting.
 
"By meeting early, by chatting early, by reaching a level of trust early, things will go smoothly this year and relations between the two countries will be more stable," said Shen Dingli, Vice Dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Shanghai's Fudan University.
 
"The results may be better because of the fact that they are taking off their ties and dispensing of ceremony. It's a little more free because it's not tied up in high diplomatic protocol."
 
Past Chinese leaders have used the formality of their meetings with U.S. presidents to tell domestic audiences that their Communist Party-run government is honored by the world's sole superpower. But Xi is also likely to spin the informality of sunny California to his advantage.
 
"Sure, a formal state dinner would be wonderful," said Renmin University's Shi. But the Chinese leaders will be able to describe these informal talks as a way to prove that Sino-U.S. relations are more intimate."

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More