For Xi, Obama, din­ner chat best

China Daily (Canada) - - XI’S VISIT - By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama feels that pri­vate din­ners with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in the past years have been the most con­struc­tive en­gage­ments be­tween the two lead­ers, ac­cord­ing to Obama’s se­nior ad­vi­sor.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor for strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said the US pres­i­dent has been able to de­velop a good re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Xi. “That doesn’t mean we agree with ev­ery­thing Xi does, but I think they have been able to have con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tions,” Rhodes told a con­fer­ence call on Xi’s state visit on Tues­day af­ter­noon.

Rhodes, who has at­tended many meet­ings be­tween the two lead­ers, de­scribed for­mal meet­ings as sit­ting there, go­ing through the long list of agenda items and stat­ing each other’s po­si­tion on is­sue af­ter is­sue.

He said such bi­lat­eral meet­ings are “nec­es­sary and very im­por­tant,” but added that “what has been dis­tinct about their re­la­tion­ship since Sun­ny­lands is far and away the con­struc­tive en­gage­ment they have had in their pri­vate din­ners.”

“Both at Sun­ny­lands and in China, Pres­i­dent Obama com­mented af­ter­wards that he felt the most con­struc­tive en­gage­ments were when they were able to talk for sev­eral hours over din­ner with­out a for­mal agenda and give a vi­sion for where they want to take their coun­try, give a vi­sion for how they think the US and China should op­er­ate to­gether in the world, and kind of put aside the talk­ing points and ac­tu­ally get a win­dow into one another’s world view, and those world views are very dif­fer­ent,” Rhodes said.

“And that’s part of why I think the con­ver­sa­tions are use­ful and im­por­tant, be­cause it pro­vides the con­text for all of these is­sues,” he added.

Xi and Obama met in June 2013 for a shirt-sleeve sum­mit in the Cal­i­for­nia desert re­treat of Sun­ny­lands and then met last Novem­ber in Bei­jing for a pri­vate din­ner in Ying­tai, an im­pe­rial palace on an is­land in Zhong­nan­hai.

Rhodes said such pri­vate din­ners give them the abil­ity to step back and of­fer a per­spec­tive of where they are in terms of the re­la­tion­ship. While Obama is able to hear from Xi about his do­mes­tic pro­grams, Obama was also able to share some of his thoughts on do­mes­tic pro­grams.

“It doesn’t mean they are in per­fect agree­ment,” Rhodes said, “but they have the un­der­stand­ing of where they come from on these is­sues.”

Rhodes said that start­ing with a pri­vate din­ner with Pres­i­dent Xi’s state visit this week was very im­por­tant be­cause there would not be a for­mal agenda to go through.

“They can step back and look at the strate­gic con­text, ac­knowl­edge the dif­fer­ences and some ten­sions that are there, but also look for op­por­tu­ni­ties in the next phase where they can co­op­er­ate,” Rhodes said. “So that pri­vate din­ner would set up a con­text and will help us make more progress on the agenda the fol­low­ing day.”

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor for strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions

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