PHNOM PENH: President Barack Obama met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Tuesday, in the highest-level exchange between the two sides since the US election and an engineered power transfer in China.
Wen and Obama met at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, as tensions rise over maritime territorial disputes in the region which are nagging the always friction-prone relations between Washington and Beijing. Both men stuck to familiar talking points in a short photo-op, and ignored questions shouted by reporters about South China Sea showdowns which have centre stage at the summit.
Obama said that, as the world's two largest economies, China and the United States had a "special responsibility" to work together to ensure sustained and balanced growth and to establish "clear rules of the road" on trade. His comments were a veiled reference to the trade and currency disputes, and issues such as intellectual property piracy and commercial duties over which his, and previous, US administrations have haggled with the Chinese.
Wen congratulated Obama on his re-election this month and sent the regards of the man he referred to as China's "newly-elected" leader, Xi Jinping. Xi was installed as the head of the ruling Communist Party after a tightly scripted party congress which culminated this month in Beijing, and he is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as national president next March.
Wen told Obama the two sides could work together on business, economic and finance issues -- where they are intertwined -- to tackle "the difficulties we have and resolve the differences and disagreements between us".
Washington has become increasingly frustrated with Beijing over its refusal to back stronger measures against the Syrian regime, while trade disputes fester between the two nations. Obama took a tough line on some aspects of Chinese trade and economic policy during his re-election campaign, covering his political flank as Republican candidate Mitt Romney flailed away at Beijing.
The United States has called on China to manage territorial disputes in the South China Sea with a regional code of conduct that would ease tensions, but Beijing wants to discuss disputes only with individual claimant nations.