Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Fresh start for U.S., China

There was never any guarantee that President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China would end their informal talks last weekend with a deeper, more productive relationship. On too many issues, their national interests diverge.

Even so, their meeting seems to have laid a reasonable basis for cooperation and for managing the inevitable competition between rising and established powers. There were two concrete results, including an agreement to discuss ways to curb the emission of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), an important step in addressing global warming.

Under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, the current generation of HFCs — heat-trapping chemicals that are used in air-conditioning and refrigeration — replaced older refrigerants that were depleting the ozone. But while they succeeded in preserving the ozone, HFCs turned out to be powerful greenhouse gases that are accelerating climate change and now themselves must be replaced.

Previously, China objected to tackling HFCs, which it produces in large quantities. Now, Mr. Xi and Mr. Obama said they would work within the protocol on a global phase-down that could significantly reduce the gases by 2050.

This would eliminate a powerful greenhouse gas. It might also provide momentum toward a global agreement aimed at the reduction of other greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.

The two sides also made important progress on North Korea, whose leader, Kim Jong Un, has raised regional tensions in recent months with belligerent rhetoric and nuclear and missile tests.

Under pressure from China, its chief ally, North Korea agreed to hold high-level talks with South Korea this week, the first in six years. But that’s unlikely to get results unless Mr. Xi keeps the pressure on the North and sustains interest in curbing its nuclear program.

There was no sign of headway on the issue that Washington considers most pressing: cyber-attacks by hackers linked to the Chinese military and the stealing of U.S. military and economic secrets.

While unfortunate, that’s not surprising; U.S. officials predicted it would take time to lay out their evidence and convince the Chinese government that such activities could threaten relations between the United States and China.

Nor was there any apparent progress on finding ways to ease China’s increasingly assertive territorial claims in the South China and East China Seas. These are stirring dangerous tensions with Japan and South Korea.

On human rights, the signals were disquieting. China’s government gave passports to relatives of Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who sought asylum in the United States last year. But a Chinese court this week sentenced a brother-in-law of Liu Xiaobo, the persecuted Nobel Peace Prize winner, to 11 years in prison on trumped-up fraud charges.

The summit meeting was more about each leader getting a feel for how they could work with each other. On that, they seemed to make headway.

If they can resist political forces that are stoking distrust between the two countries and maintain a dialogue, maybe they can achieve the “new model” of relations they pledged to build. That would be significant for both nations.

— New York Times

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