BEIJING — President Obama said today that his talks with his Chinese counterpart are vital not just for their nations but the world.
Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao sent cooperative signals before they began closed-door meetings that were likely to touch on challenges ranging from nuclear proliferation, hurting economies, climate change and human rights.
The pair sought to strike a balance between trading partners and competitors during Obama's first trip to China, amid a tour of Asia.
"We believe strong dialogue is important not only for the U.S. and China, but for the rest of the world," Obama said, flanked by his national security team as the session began with great ceremony.
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Hu reciprocated with kind words in public: "I look forward to having an in-depth relationship."
After those brief comments to reporters, the two presidents opened more than two hours of private talks at the Great Hall of the People, located on the edge of Tiananmen Square.
The buildup to the meetings in China brought a cautious balancing from the first-term U.S. leader.
A day before, Obama prodded China about Internet controls and free speech during a forum with students in Shanghai. His message was drastically limited online and shown on just one regional television channel.
He also suggested that China, now a giant in economic impact as well as territory, must take a bigger role on the world stage — part of the "burden of leadership" it shares with the United States.
"I will tell you, other countries around the world will be waiting for us," Obama said in an American-style town hall discussion with Chinese university students in Shanghai.
With America's budget deficit soaring to a yearly record of $1.42 trillion, China is the No. 1 lender to Washington and has expressed concern that the falling price of the dollar threatens the value of its U.S. holdings.
Topmost on Obama's ambitious agenda with Hu is the so-far elusive search for global agreement on a new climate change pact, stymied by disagreement between rich nations like the U.S. and developing nations such as China.
Wealthier countries want legally binding greenhouse-gas reduction targets for themselves as well as for energy-guzzling developing nations such as China, India and Brazil. Those poorer nations say they will set only nonbinding goals and demand assistance to make the transition to harder targets.
Another key area for Obama is securing stronger Chinese backing for halting the nuclear weapons ambitions of Iran and North Korea.