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Chinese President Vows Cooperation on Climate Change

November 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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Talks between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao yielded a promise of slowing down climate change and nuclear proliferation, but fell short of making progress on human rights. Kwame Holman reports.
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JIM LEHRER: New promises to slow climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons came today from the continuing U.S.-China summit in Beijing. But differences persisted over economic policy and human rights.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our lead story report.

KWAME HOLMAN: There were smiles all around as President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao prepared to go into a meeting today that would last for two hours. The talks yielded no firm agreements. But the men who lead the world’s largest economy and the fastest-growing one highlighted a pledge to make determined efforts to work together.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The major challenges of the 21st century, from climate change to nuclear proliferation to economic recovery, are challenges that touch both our nations, and challenges that neither of our nations can solve by acting alone.

HU JINTAO, president, China: There are growing global challenges, and countries in today’s world have become more and more interdependent. In this context, it is necessary to step up international cooperation.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Obama pointed to cooperation between Washington and Beijing on the nuclear front.

BARACK OBAMA: President Hu and I discussed our shared commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and I told him how appreciative I am of China’s support for the global nonproliferation regime as well as the verifiable elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president said, they agreed Iran’s nuclear program should be handled through negotiations, for now. So far, the Chinese have balked at sanctions against Tehran.

It also was unclear how far China will go on climate change. Mr. Obama said the two countries should rally the world at a global summit next month.

President Hu was more cautious.

HU JINTAO: We agreed to expand our cooperation on climate change, energy, and environment. We also agreed to act on the basis of the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities and consistent with our respective capabilities to work with other parties concerned.

Disagreements over the economy

KWAME HOLMAN: Even as the leaders talked of mutual cooperation, some longstanding disagreements were in clear view, especially on economic matters. They involved disputes over Chinese monetary policy and American trade rules.

U.S. officials have complained China keeps its currency, the yuan, undervalued to fuel exports. That, in turn, puts U.S. manufacturers at a disadvantage by making Chinese goods cheaper to buy.

Today, President Obama pressed the Chinese to loosen their tight currency controls.

BARACK OBAMA: I was pleased to note the Chinese commitment, made in past statements, to move toward a more market- oriented exchange rate over time. I emphasized in our discussions, as have others in the region, that doing so based on economic fundamentals would make an essential contribution to the global rebalancing effort.

KWAME HOLMAN: For his part, Chinese President Hu complained about U.S. tariffs imposed against Chinese-made tires and steel pipes.

HU JINTAO: I stressed to President Obama that under the current circumstances, our two countries need to oppose and reject protectionism in all its manifestations in an even stronger stand.

KWAME HOLMAN: There was no prospect of any breakthrough on those issues at this summit, nor on China's human rights record. In advance of the president's visit, Chinese police rounded up dozens of pro-democracy protesters, and some activists appealed to Mr. Obama to take a tougher stand during his visit.

YANG ZILI, activist: President Obama has the power to influence the Chinese people and the Chinese government, if he stresses human rights in China.

Crackdown on the media

KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday, at a town hall in Shanghai, the president did call for the communist regime to lift its tight censorship of the Internet. But the town hall was not widely broadcast in China, and the Webcast frequently cut out.

In addition, ABC news reported, correspondent Jake Tapper was asked to stop interviewing students after the town hall yesterday. And a CNN reporter said she was detained for displaying a T-shirt depicting President Obama as Mao Zedong, the late Chinese communist leader.

Those T-shirts had been hot items until they were banned a week ago. Mr. Obama did not reference those incidents when the leaders made statements before the press today, but he did make an explicit appeal concerning the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

BARACK OBAMA: We did note that, while we recognize that Tibet is part of the People's Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president did not meet with the Dalai Lama when the Tibetan leader visited Washington this fall. Today, a White House spokesman said a meeting would come at an appropriate time.

BARACK OBAMA: And what a magnificent place to visit.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the meantime, Mr. Obama spent some time today touring the icy cobblestone courtyards of Beijing's Forbidden City.

The president said he hoped his visit would help him understand China better, but he acknowledged future relations with China will not be without disagreement or difficulty.

JIM LEHRER: We will go further into human rights in China later in the program. Also, we have a slide show of images from past state visits to China on our Website, NewsHour.PBS.org. And historian Richard Norton Smith discusses the issues other presidents have faced.