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Obama, Hu Talk Up Cooperation, But Big Differences Persist

January 19, 2011 at 4:35 PM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: “We will cooperate, and we will compete.”

That’s how President Obama characterized relations, as the state visit of the president of China formally began today in Washington. One-on-one talks were sandwiched between a ceremonial greeting this morning and a state dinner tonight.

Pomp and circumstance officially welcomed President Hu Jintao to the White House today. It was his first trip to the U.S. since 2006, and it followed two years of tensions over everything from climate change to Taiwan.

From the outset, President Obama talked up cooperation.


U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have an enormous stake in each other’s success. In an interconnected world, in a global economy, nations, including our own, will be more prosperous and more secure when we work together.

JEFFREY BROWN: But the president also used his opening remarks to raise China’s record on human rights.

BARACK OBAMA: History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being.

JEFFREY BROWN: In turn, President Hu responded with a call for mutual respect.

HU JINTAO, Chinese president (through translator): We live in an increasingly diverse and colorful world. China and the United States should respect each other’s choice of development path and each other’s core interests. We should deepen mutual understanding through communication, increase mutual trust through dialogue, and expand common ground through exchanges.

JEFFREY BROWN: The leaders then had a private exchange on a range of matters behind closed doors in the Oval Office.

Hu called it a candid, constructive atmosphere. The public talk continued at a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House.

BARACK OBAMA: What’s needed, I believe, is a spirit of cooperation that is also friendly competition.

JEFFREY BROWN: The exchange on human rights continued as well.

BARACK OBAMA: We have some core views as Americans about the universality of certain rights — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly — that we think are very important and that transcend cultures. I have been very candid with President Hu about these issues.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Hu didn’t respond initially, amid some confusion with the translations.

But, later, he said this:

HU JINTAO (through translator): We do believe that we also need to take into account the different national circumstances when it comes to the universal value of human rights.

In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development, and a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights.

JEFFREY BROWN: The presidents also addressed several other issues that have added to tensions between the two nations, from U.S. concerns that China undervalues its currency for trade advantage, to China’s role in reining in North Korea’s nuclear program, and Beijing’s growing assertiveness in Asia, especially in the South China Sea.

BARACK OBAMA: I absolutely believe that China’s peaceful rise is good for the world and it’s good for America.

We welcome China’s rise. We just want to make sure that that rise is done — that that rise occurs in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules and enhances security and peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict either in the region or around the world.

HU JINTAO (through translator): China-U.S. cooperation has great significance for our two countries and the world. The two sides should firmly adhere to the right direction of our relationship; respect each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests; promote the long-term sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations; and make even greater contributions to maintaining and promoting world peace and development.

JEFFREY BROWN: There were also talks with American and Chinese business leaders today. And U.S. officials announced an array of new agreements for China to buy $45 billion in U.S. exports, including 200 Boeing jetliners.


PROTESTER: Stop the killings in Tibet!

PROTESTERS: Stop the killings in Tibet!

JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, just outside the White House grounds, demonstrators protested over China’s jailing of dissidents and its control of Tibet.

This evening, President Hu will be honored with an opulent state dinner, the first for a Chinese leader in more than 13 years.