Despite Climate Progress, U.S., China Face a World of Differences


WASHINGTON—While the U.S. and China have made strides on climate change, including a new pledge from Beijing to cap some emissions and put a price on carbon, President Barack Obama is under pressure to narrow differences between the two countries over economic and security issues as he hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday.

Mr. Obama’s critics have argued he shouldn’t honor Mr. Xi with the trappings of a state visit, which include a formal arrival ceremony and a black-tie dinner, given U.S. concerns about China’s economic policies and allegations that Chinese hackers have stolen sensitive data from American corporations.

But the White House hopes engaging Mr. Xi, rather than shunning him, will yield new agreements on cybersecurity and reassurances that China is committed to its promised economic reforms.

“We’re going to continue to have a range of bilateral differences,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “But we certainly believe that the way to address those is directly with the Chinese, through engagement. Denying ourselves that type of engagement with the Chinese would simply deny ourselves the ability to advance our interests and to make clear to China where we stand.”

Messrs. Obama and Xi began their discussions Thursday night with a private dinner at the Blair House, the presidential guest residence across from the White House. lasting 2 1/2 hours.

White House officials said Mr. Obama wanted to use the time with Mr. Xi to ease friction on issues on which they disagree ahead of their formal meeting Friday and to outline new areas he’d like the two countries to focus on over the next year, in particular defusing tensions with North Korea.

The leaders will hold an expanded, formal meeting on Friday, followed by a joint news conference in the Rose Garden where each leader will take two questions from U.S. and Chinese reporters. The news conference is scheduled to begin around noon.

Mr. Obama’s advisers have suggested he will take a tougher line with Mr. Xi during this visit than he has during their previous encounters.

U.S. officials have accused China of what National Security Adviser Susan Rice described this week as “state-sponsored, cyber-enabled economic espionage.” The White House, however, held back on imposing economic sanctions against Chinese firms that allegedly benefited from the theft before Mr. Xi’s arrival in hopes of reaching an agreement during his visit.

Chinese government officials have denied any involvement, but Mr. Obama is under intensifying pressure from U.S. business groups to take action.

On the economy, Mr. Obama is seeking from Mr. Xi a sign that he is committed to transitioning China toward more sustainable growth after recent market fluctuations and government intervention.

Mr. Xi defended his handling of the economy, telling The Wall Street Journal this week: “Like an arrow shot that cannot be brought back, we will forge ahead against all odds to meet our goals of reform.”

In an attempt to shine a positive light onto what might otherwise be a tense state visit, the White House outlined Thursday the new steps toward combating climate change.

Senior administration officials said Beijing’s commitment to launching a national emissions trading system in 2017—a long-anticipated development— marks a new era of U.S.-China “climate diplomacy.”

China also will announce a significant contribution to climate finance efforts in developing countries, senior administration officials said.

The U.S. already has committed to contributing $3 billion over several years to the Green Climate Fund, which supports efforts to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and transition to clean-energy technologies, in poorer countries.

In November, the U.S. and China agreed on an ambitious joint plan to cut carbon emissions. The U.S. committed to reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by between 26% and 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. And China pledged to have its emissions peak by 2030 or earlier.

Friday’s joint statement won’t alter those targets, officials said, but will demonstrate capacity to meet the objectives.

“You see both countries outlining the steps they intend to take and doing it in a transparent way,” a senior administration official said.

With international climate talks in Paris scheduled later this year, officials acknowledged that much work remains to wrap up an accord, with questions still unresolved about how much of the economic burden developing countries should shoulder. But U.S.-China cooperation on these issues will increase the likelihood of reaching a robust international agreement, an official said.

Written by Carol E Lee and Colleen McCain Nelson of The Wall Street Journal

(Source: The Wall Street Journal)

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