- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BEIJING | President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met for more than an hour Tuesday, and emerged with a commitment to what Mr. Obama called a “positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship” in which the two nations would team up to tackle such vexing global problems as climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Appearing somewhat stiffly together in front of American and Chinese news outlets, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Hu not only discussed the wide-ranging issues where they agreed, they also offered their most frank assessments of the issues that still divide the two nations — such as the way the Chinese set the value of their currency, the American approach to trade, and most notably, human rights.

For the first time since he arrived in China, Mr. Obama publicly raised the Chinese crackdown in Tibet.

“I spoke to President Hu about America’s bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights,” Mr. Obama said during the carefully orchestrated event in an ornate marble chamber in the Hall of the People.

“We did note that while we recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have,” he said.

A sign of how divisive that subject remains, and how sensitive it is for the Chinese leadership, came shortly after Mr. Obama departed the joint briefing. Reports began to surface that the national Chinese television network, CCTV, cut into its live broadcast of Mr. Obama’s human rights remarks.

Thomas F. Skipper, the minister counselor for public affairs at the American embassy in Beijing, said his staff was still reviewing tapes and transcripts to determine if that was the case.

Efforts to prevent the president’s comments from reaching a broad Chinese audience was becoming a recurring, if unwelcomed, theme to Mr. Obama’s visit. The day before, when the president conducted a town hall meeting with 500 students in Shanghai, China made a late decision to prevent the event from being broadcast nationally, and Mr. Skipper said he was also reviewing reports that efforts to show the event on a Shanghai cable station and on a widely viewed telecast from Hong Kong were disrupted.

Reporters asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about those incidents, as well as reports that, after the president arrived in China, the government rounded up political dissidents, police tussled with a CNN producer who tried to buy an Obama-Mao T-shirt, and a central banking regulator berated the United States over the currency issues.

“I did not expect, and I can speak authoritatively for the President on this, that we thought the waters would part and everything would change over the course of our almost two and a half day trip to China,” Mr. Gibbs said. “We understand there’s a lot of work to do and that we’ll continue to work hard at making more progress.”

Despite those areas of persistent tension, Mr. Obama’s foreign policy team argued that the day of talks represented a significant advance for American relations with China on several key fronts.

On climate change, for instance, the two leaders agreed in principle that each country would take significant mitigation actions, according to Michael Froman, a senior adviser to the president on the issue. They agreed that even as the Copenhagen negotiations appear well short of a final legal agreement, they would seek an accord that addresses mitigation commitments by both developed and developing countries, focuses on countries adapting to the effects of climate change, and provides scaled-up financing and technological support.

Mr. Hu listed a range of other areas where he expects his government to work more closely with the U.S., including on counterterrorism, law enforcement, science, technology, civil aviation, space exploration, high-speed railway infrastructure, agriculture, health and other fields.

“We also agreed to work together to continue to promote even greater progress in the growth of military-to-military ties,” Mr. Hu said, through a translator.

Mr. Hu did not entirely ignore the question of human rights. Speaking to the gathered reporters — who were told they would not be permitted to ask questions — Mr. Hu said he and Mr. Obama “reaffirmed the fundamental principle of respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“We will continue to act in the spirit of equality, mutual respect and noninterference in each other’s internal affairs, and engage in dialogue and exchanges on such issues as human rights and religion in order to enhance understanding, reduce differences and broaden common ground,” he said.