RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif.: President Barack Obama used an unusually lengthy and informal desert summit to present Chinese President Xi Jinping with detailed evidence of intellectual property theft emanating from his country, as a top U.S. official declared Saturday that cybersecurity is now at the “center of the relationship” between the world’s largest economies.
While there were few clear policy breakthroughs on cybersecurity, U.S. officials said Obama and Xi were in broad agreement over the need for North Korea to be denuclearized. And both countries expressed optimism that the closer personal ties forged between the two leaders during the California summit could stem the mistrust between the world powers.
Still, Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon said resolving cybersecurity issues would be “key to the future” of the relationship.
Obama told Xi that “if it’s not addressed, if it continues to be this direct theft of United States property, that this was going to be very difficult problem in the economic relationship and was going to be an inhibitor to the relationship really reaching its full potential,” Donilon said during a briefing with reporters following the summit.
In their own recap of the meetings, Chinese officials said Xi opposed all forms of cyberspying, but claimed no responsibility for attacks against the U.S.
“Cybersecurity should not become the root cause of mutual suspicion and frictions between our two countries. Rather, it should be a new bright spot in our cooperation,” said Yang Jiechi, Xi’s senior foreign policy adviser.
Yang said the two leaders “blazed a new trail” away from the two nations’ past differences and “talked about cooperation and did not shy away from differences.”
Obama and Xi met for about eight hours over the course of two days at the sweeping Sunnylands estate, marking a significant and unusual investment of time for both presidents. Their talks included a working dinner of lobster tamales, Porterhouse steak and cherry pie prepared by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, and a morning walk through the manicured gardens of the 200-acre estate on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
During their walk, the leaders stopped to sit on a custom-designed park bench made of California redwood that Obama presented to Xi as a gift.
The U.S. president told reporters that the talks were “terrific” as he and Xi walked side by side, both having ditched jackets and ties in a nod to the summit’s informal atmosphere. The leaders closed the summit in low-key style, with no formal statements to the press, just a private tea with Xi’s wife.
Obama and Xi did take a significant step toward tackling climate change, announcing that their countries had agreed for the first time to partner on reducing hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and industrial applications.