U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, completed two days of get-to-know-you talks on Saturday that covered disputes like cyber hacking and North Korea and may set the stage for U.S.-Chinese relations for years to come.
The pair spent about eight hours together over Friday and Saturday at a sprawling retreat in the sun-baked desert near Palm Springs, California, an informal summit aimed at injecting some warmth into often chilly relations and providing the chance to talk about their differences openly.
While there were plenty of smiles for the cameras, there was no sign of any significant breakthrough on problems that have dogged dealings between America and China for years, particularly accusations of Chinese thievery of U.S. industrial and military secrets through cyber intrusions.
In one accomplishment, Obama and Xi agreed their governments would work together to find ways to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons as a way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.
As their second day of meetings began, Obama and Xi appeared outside in the morning heat at the Sunnylands retreat, a secluded 200-acre (81-hectare) complex where eight U.S. presidents have visited.
Obama and Xi walked slowly side by side, smiling and chatting amiably in English across a manicured green lawn between two ponds. Trailed by translators and aides, the two leaders, dressed casually in shirt sleeves, walked across a small arched bridge.
"Terrific," said Obama when asked by a reporter how meetings were going.
The two leaders wrestled with how to handle China's rise on the world stage, more than 40 years after President Richard Nixon's groundbreaking visit to Communist China in 1972 ended decades of estrangement between Washington and Beijing.
Although Obama said he wanted to make room for the "peaceful rise" of China, the two countries do not see eye to eye on trade, bellicose behavior by nuclear-armed North Korea, human rights and each country's military intentions.
Obama cited a "whole range of challenges on which we have to cooperate, from ... North Korea's nuclear and missile programs to proliferation, to issues like climate change."
China experts say if Obama and Xi can develop personal rapport - something lacking between U.S. presidents and Xi's notoriously wooden predecessor, Hu Jintao - and make at least some progress on substantive issues, the summit could gain historic significance.
Each leader appeared to gain something from the talks. Obama was able to set aside diplomatic niceties and talk one-on-one about the cyber dispute and other sore points.
Xi was able to promote directly to Obama his desire for a "new model of major country relationship," in which China would be viewed as an equal global player.
"One would hope that there's a level of confidence that emerges from this meeting, and it's something that's very personality specific," said Richard Solomon, a former assistant secretary of state.
While China worries the United States is trying to encircle it militarily with its strategic "pivot to Asia," the cyber dispute is the most pressing issue for Obama.
The Washington Post reported recently that China had used cyber attacks to access data from nearly 40 Pentagon weapons programs, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. China dismissed the report, saying it needed no outside help for its military development.
After more than two hours of discussions on Friday night, Xi and Obama said they needed to work together to tackle cyber-security issues.
Potential help in the effort to rein in cyber theft came when the State Department announced China had agreed with the United States, Russia and other major nations that international law applies to actions that states take in cyberspace. That could help ensure infrastructure like energy grids are not targeted by cyber attacks.
The two leaders agreed to expand military-to-military ties, an area that has been hindered by mistrust and poor communication.
"We are more likely to achieve our objectives of prosperity and security of our peoples if we are working cooperatively rather than engaged in conflict," Obama told reporters.