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Analyst: U.S.-China relationship 'too complicated'

| Monday, June 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — At the conclusion of President Obama's and Xi Jinping's weekend in the California desert, senior aides to both leaders were quick to declare the shirt-sleeves summit a success that was marked by the two leaders building a rapport and speaking candidly on a series of sensitive issues.

Aides said the leaders agreed that North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons program, and they announced a joint agreement on combating “super greenhouse gases.”

Obama made clear to China's president that he was determined to establish a substantive relationship with him, while delivering a clear warning that cyberattacks emanating out of China threaten to divide the nations. And Xi was able to show a Chinese audience that he was making progress in finding “a new path” with their global rival.

What remains to be seen is whether the leaders can make their lofty aspirations of reinvigorating U.S.-China relations a reality.

“This relationship is too complicated to come away with the feeling that all problems have been solved or on track to be resolved,” said Matthew Goodman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Asia adviser on the National Security Council during Obama's first term. “It is an important reference point for the future ... but you have to remember we weren't on a very happy trajectory in the relationship ahead of the talks.”

In the end it's domestic pressures on Xi that could have the greatest impact on the Chinese taking action on the most maddening issues to the United States, from currency manipulation that led to a record $315 billion trade imbalance last year to insidious cybertheft and industrial espionage emanating from China.

Xi faces falling GDP growth and a Chinese public that is impatient with stifling pollution in the cities, skyrocketing property prices and diminishing job prospects for new college graduates, of which an estimated 30 percent are unemployed.

“The leadership, as I understand it, looks now for a period of stability,” former secretary of State Henry Kissinger told CNN on Sunday. “They know that they have formidable tasks in adjusting many of their domestic activities. And they don't want to complicate those by a crisis with the United States.”

The nations' tightening on the North Korea issue has been a work in progress. In recent months, China has grown frustrated with North Korea's belligerent rhetoric over its nuclear tests and missile launches.

Officials from North and South Korea sat down for the first intergovernmental talks in two years on Sunday ahead of higher-level talks later this week. The timing of the talks and broader efforts by North Korea to de-escalate tension in the region could be a reaction, in part, to China's growing impatience with Pyongyang, Goodman said.

But on cybersecurity, an issue to which Obama and Xi dedicated considerable time, the two sides appear to be far apart.

China has been linked to network break-ins of Western companies and agencies. And Obama issued an executive order this year to compel government and industry to share intelligence about network breaches, mainly to protect the nation's infrastructure.

The Pentagon also blamed China for cyberattacks in its annual report to U.S. lawmakers on Chinese military capabilities. The report, published in May, stated that some of the recent cyberattacks in the United States appeared “to be attributable directly to Chinese government and military.”

In their talks, White House National Security adviser Tom Donilon said Obama presented detailed examples of cybertheft, and told the Chinese officials that the U.S. government knows with certainty the intrusions are coming from within China.

But China State Councilor Yang Jiechi downplayed differences between the two countries on cybersecurity.

“China itself is also a victim of cyberattacks, and we are staunch supporter of cybersecurity,” Yang said. “On cybersecurity, China and the United States both are faced with similar challenges. Cybersecurity should not become the root cause of mutual suspicion and friction between our two countries. Rather, it should be a new bright spot in our cooperation.”

Donilon said Obama warned Xi that the issue must be dealt with.

“We have a half-a-trillion-dollar-a-year trade relationship with China. We have all manner of interaction between the United States and China,” Donilon said. “We are highly interdependent countries and societies and economies, and again, we have a range of issues. And this is an issue that's come to the fore and it's one that is going to have to be resolved.”

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