Obama Begins Visit To China

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President Obama arrived in China on Sunday, as part of his eight-day tour of Asia. NPR's Scott Horsley talks to host Guy Raz about what President Obama is expected to discuss with Chinese leaders, as well as a report on the president's talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and Iran's nuclear program.

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

President Obama arrived in China today, his first state visit there. The stop is part of his eight-day tour of Asia. In just a few minutes, a conversation about how China could displace the United States as the world's military, economic and cultural superpower.

First, though, to NPR's Scott Horsley. He's traveling with the president. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Guy.

RAZ: Scott, the president is expected to strike a conciliatory note when he meets with Chinese leaders. What's he hoping to accomplish in China?

HORSLEY: Well, Guy, he's hoping to challenge that notion that the U.S. views China's growing influence as some kind of threat or the idea that China's rise has to come at America's expense. Instead, Mr.�Obama hopes to approach China as a potential partner, recognizing that the U.S. needs China's help to tackle most of its big challenges, whether it's bankrolling our own deficit or mending the global economy or curbing global warming.

RAZ: Now, there're some other developments on this tour, on the president's tour, the administration basically confirming this weekend that they don't expect a climate change agreement in Copenhagen next month. Why?

HORSLEY: Well, it's been increasingly clear in recent weeks that the Copenhagen summit in December is not likely to produce a binding agreement on greenhouse gases; there's just too much difference remaining between rich countries and poor countries in how to divvy up the sacrifice.

At the same time, the leaders here, including President Obama and Chinese president Hu Jintao, don't want to see all the effort that's been put into the process go for naught. So early today, they held an impromptu climate meeting on the edge of their Asian talks. Denmark's prime minister flew in at the last minute to attend, of course, he's the host of the Copenhagen meeting, and they talked about how they might salvage something from that get-together. The hope is they'll be able to reach at least a political agreement in Copenhagen and then follow that up with a more binding legal agreement at some point in the future.

RAZ: Another deal, Scott, that's taking more time to hammer out is an arms control agreement with Russia. President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Singapore, and afterward, he said this:

President BARACK OBAMA: I am somebody who genuinely believes that the reset button has worked.

RAZ: Scott, what came out of that meeting?

HORSLEY: Well, the U.S. and Russia had been trying to work out a successor to the START treaty in arms control, and they hoped to have it done before the START treaty expires in early December. We now know that's not going to happen. At their meeting today, the president said they made progress, but there are still some sticky issues to be resolved. So now, they're hoping to have an arms control deal finished by the end of the year. And in the meantime, they'll try to work out a bridge agreement that would allow the two sides to keep monitoring one another's nuclear weapons.

The two presidents also talked about Iran. Mr.�Obama said time is running out for a negotiated settlement on Iran's nuclear program, and President Medvedev said the ongoing talks do have to have an end point, adding that if negotiations don't pan out, other options, presumably sanctions, are on the table.

RAZ: Scott, I understand a little history made today when the president attended the meeting of the Southeast Asian nations, including Myanmar.

HORSLEY: Yeah. For years, U.S. leaders wouldn't even sit in the same room with Myanmar's military rulers, but the Obama administration decided that that isolation wasn't really helping their cause in Myanmar, and instead, what it was doing was isolating the U.S. from potential allies in Southeast Asia.

So from now on, the administration says it won't let the Myanmar tail wag the South Asian dog. They will take part in these regional meetings, and they'll use that forum to demand democratic reforms in Myanmar. A statement from the other Asian leaders today called for free and fair elections in Myanmar next year, and Mr.�Obama himself went further, demanding the release of all political prisoners there.

RAZ: Scott, still a few more days before the president returns to Washington. What's on his agenda for the next few days?

HORSLEY: Well, he's meeting here in China with his presidential counterpart, Hu Jintao, as well as ordinary Chinese citizens. He's going to be holding a town-hall-style meeting where he hopes to hear from some students here in China, and then the White House will wrap up their Asian tour on Thursday in South Korea.

RAZ: That's NPR's Scott Horsley, traveling with the president. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Guy.

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