Obama Welcomes Xi to White House with Climate at Heart of Debate

Reception in the White House gardens, hymns, a 21-gun salute: Yesterday, President Barack Obama welcomed his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, with honors and a background of tensions between the two world powers.

The Chinese leader’s first visit to Washington since his rise to power occurred at a moment when the Chinese economy demonstrated real signs of excitement. And if the subjects of discord hacking at the head [of the U.S.] are numerous, the American executive hopes to display a “constructive” collaboration on at least one subject: the fight against climate change. According to a ranking American, China should especially announce the creation in 2017 of a quota-based market of carbon dioxide, aiming to give a price to carbon and thus encourage reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial sector. Earth’s principal polluter has already conducted pilot experiments, but has not yet established a true-to-scale national market. During their meeting in November 2014 in Beijing, Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi announced a previously unpublished agreement in which they presented their objectives in terms of greenhouse gas emissions: a reduction from 28 percent to 26 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 for the United States, while China hopes to reach “peak” emissions in 2030.

“Last year’s announcement was about the objectives. This year, we will show our determination to set up policies to reach in order to succeed in a global agreement on climate” in Paris in December, the ranking American concluded.* Mr. Obama welcomed his counterpart to Washington Thursday night for an informal dinner at Blair House, the official residence of distinguished guests of the American government. “The [two leaders] felt the most constructive engagements were when they were able to talk for several hours over dinner without a formal agenda,” emphasized Ben Rhodes, close advisor to Mr. Obama, who sees the opportunity there to confront their respective “world views.”

Yesterday should have been marked by more formality. After the ceremony on the White House lawns, the leaders will meet face to face in the Oval Office before a common press conference. Outside of the negotiations, Barack and Michelle Obama will welcome Mr. Xi and his wife, former singer Peng Liyuan, for a state dinner in the presence of numerous invitees. The American executive promised “frank” discussions with the Chinese president, who, during 10 days in Seattle, praised the commercial bonds between the two countries and emphasized his will to open China “more and more” to the world.

Worries over Beijing’s attitude at sea, or its role in cyberattacks whose victims were enterprises or American institutions, were actual subjects of discord between the two countries, to the extent that on Tuesday, Mr. Xi pleaded for “a new model of relations” between Beijing and Washington, with “more comprehension and confidence, and less distance and distrust,” and warned that a confrontation could unleash “a disaster for the two countries and the world.” In one editorial, the Washington Post called on the American president to harden the tone. Remembering that Mr. Xi was the only president of a non-democratic country to have the honor to visit the United States during the Obama administration, the newspaper deplores that, for two years, American protests had been “ignored by Chinese leaders.”*

“The true challenge and the most difficult question that this administration reports is: if China continues the same path … the United States should consider taking measure to leave this moment,” emphasizes Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.* For Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor, if these American concerns are veritable, they should not prevent the research of constructive relations with China. “We reject reductive reasoning and lazy rhetoric that says conflict between the U.S. and China is inevitable, even as we’ve been tough with China where we disagree,” she argued before President Xi’s arrival in the federal capital.

*Editor’s Note: These quotations, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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