PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — It may not have been Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev’s Cold War walk by a frozen lake in Switzerland.
But President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s 50-minute stroll through an estate in the California desert could mark a notable moment in the relationship between the heads of the world’s two largest economies.
At the very least, it was a rare opportunity Saturday for the presidents to dispense with their advisers — and coats and ties in the scorching heat — for extended one-on-one talks.
Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser who helped orchestrate the two-day summit, said the walk was an important moment “to establish and deepen their personal relationship” and address “the range of issues that we have to address.”
It’s a big list that includes cyberspying and intellectual property theft and North Korea’s nuclear provocations, as well as economic competition and climate change.
There were no policy breakthroughs as Obama and Xi sauntered across the manicured lawns of the Sunnylands estate or when they sat on the California redwood bench that Obama had custom-made as a gift for his Chinese counterpart. But both countries appeared to leave California pleased that the issues were addressed candidly and the groundwork was laid for future talks.
The leaders “did not shy away from differences,” said Yang Jiechi, Xi’s senior foreign policy adviser, adding that Obama and Xi “blazed a new trail” in the relationship between their countries.
Obama and Xi held more than eight hours of talks over the course of the two-day summit, which closed Saturday afternoon. The leaders found common ground in their frustrations over North Korea’s provocations and on climate change, agreeing to work together to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigerators, air conditioners and industrial applications.
But there was no accord over cybersecurity, which U.S. officials see as perhaps the most pressing issue facing the two nations.
Obama confronted Xi with specific evidence of intellectual property theft the U.S. says is emanating from China.
Xi said China was also a victim of cyberattacks but did not publicly acknowledge his own country’s alleged activities.