US, China cyber disputes loom

China president travels to the US to meet Obama over cyber security.

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: AFP.

CALIFORNIA - President Barack Obama told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday that the United States welcomes China's "peaceful rise" and seeks a world order where all countries play by the same rules on thorny issues like cyber security.

At the start of a two-day summit at a luxurious desert estate in southern California, Obama said the world's two biggest economies must strike a balance between competition and cooperation to overcome the challenges that divide them.

But tensions over cyber security could test the two leaders' ability to get along in meetings billed as an informal get-to-know-you encounter at the sprawling Sunnylands compound near Palm Springs.

In their talks, Obama plans to complain to Xi about suspected Chinese hacking of US secrets, even as the White House faces growing questions at home over American government surveillance.

"The United States welcomes the continuous peaceful rise of China as a world power," Obama said as the two leaders delivered statements before sitting down for closed-door meetings.

But honing in on the top US concerns, Obama said Washington seeks "an international economic order where nations are playing by the same rules, where trade is free and fair and where the United States and China work together to address issues like cyber security and protection of intellectual property."

Xi, meeting Obama for the first time since assuming the presidency in March, expressed the hope that China and the United States could build a new model of "big country" relations - alluding to his desire that Beijing be treated more in line with its growing international clout.

"Relations between our two countries are at a new historical starting point," Xi said, describing the talks as a chance to "chart the future" of US-China relations.

Obama welcomed Xi in withering heat at the Sunnylands retreat, and the smiling leaders posed for a handshake photo against a backdrop of manicured gardens and barren desert mountains in the distance. Both wore suits without neckties.

High-level US-Chinese encounters of recent decades have been unable to match President Richard Nixon's ground breaking visit to Communist China in 1972 that ended decades of estrangement between Washington and Beijing.

US officials believe Obama and Xi will develop personal rapport - something lacking between American presidents and Xi's notoriously stiff predecessor, Hu Jintao - that could help ease tensions in one of the world's most important bilateral relationships.

A willingness to forgo the traditional pomp and scripted discussions of a White House visit appears to signal a fresh approach by Xi, who as president-in-waiting met Obama in Washington in February 2012. He is a Communist Party "princeling," the son of a revolutionary leader. But he is also fond of Hollywood movie war dramas.