Obama Raises Human Rights, Tibet In Beijing Talks

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President Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao agreed to cooperate in a number of issues ranging from climate change to nuclear weapons. During more than two hours of closed-door talks, Obama is said to have described human rights as a core bedrock principle for the U.S. He also urged Hu to restart talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. Im Steve Inskeep.

Two men sat down today, who between them, have influence over much of the planet. One is President Obama, the other is Chinas President Hu Jintao. The two discussed a wide range of challenges, from the warming of the atmosphere to the spread of nuclear weapons, none of which, Mr. Obama says, can be solved without Chinas help.

President BARACK OBAMA: Thats why the United States welcomes Chinas efforts in playing a greater role on the world stage - a role in which a growing economy is joined by growing responsibilities.

INSKEEP: Mr. Obama also had some frank words for the Chinese president about Chinas human rights record and about Tibet.

Were going to talk about all this with NPRs Scott Horsley, whos on the line. Hes traveling with the President. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Must have been a little awkward, bringing up sensitive issues like Tibet, at the same time the United States is looking for Chinas help.

HORSLEY: Well, certainly the U.S. is sensitive to Chinas feelings. Youll remember that President Obama skipped the opportunity to meet with the Dalai Lama in Washington not long ago. But were told he did speak very clearly about the subject in private with President Hu today, describing human rights as a core bedrock principle for the U.S. and urging China to restart talks with the Dalai Lamas representatives.

This was described as a deliberate and clear statement of the priority President Obama places on these issues. For his part, though, President Hu was noncommittal. Hes speaking here through a translator.

President HU JINTAO (China): (Through translator) Given our differences in national conditions, it is only normal that our two sides may disagree on some issues. What is important is to respect and accommodate each others core interests and major concerns.

INSKEEP: And, of course, China insists that Tibet is a part of China and that what happens there is of no concern to outsiders. At the same time, Scott Horsley, the United States has a concern about Iran and its nuclear program, which were hearing about elsewhere in the program today. Does the U.S. have Chinas cooperation when it comes to Iran?

HORSLEY: Well, it has at least a veneer of cooperation. One of the things that happens with these high-level talks is the two leaders can come out and smile and say conciliatory things and that can sort of mask differences below the surface. The U.S. has talked about pursuing a two-track path with Iran, negotiations and a chance for Iran to show its nuclear plans are peaceful, but with consequences on a second track if that first track doesnt work out.

President Hu agreed its important for stability in the Middle East to reach a negotiated settlement with Iran, but he said nothing about that second track should negotiations fail.

INSKEEP: Were talking with NPRs Scott Horsley. Hes in Beijing at the meeting of the American and Chinese presidents. And Scott, its hard not to notice that were witnessing the meeting between the president of the worlds largest economy and the president of a rising economy thats considered the worlds largest polluter. What did they say about greenhouse gases?

HORSLEY: Well, thats right. Both are interested in seeing some successful movement on climate change in Copenhagen next month. These two countries obviously play an outsized role in that issue. And they reached a lot of agreements today on things like clean energy, energy efficiency. Mr. Obama said they also hope to take significant mitigation stands of their own and stand behind those commitments, but he didnt what those commitments about reducing greenhouse gases on their parts might be.

INSKEEP: And at the same time, they want to at least talk about using energy more efficiently. Theres the trade balance between the two countries and trying to get that right.

HORSLEY: Thats right. President Obama says they discussed a more balanced approach to trade. That means the Chinese buying more goods from the U.S., very important to President Obama, who sees it as a jobs maker in the U.S. Theres a limit to the presidents bargaining position, of course, since China is such a big banker for the U.S. Aides were asked, afterwards, if that debtor relationship compromised the president at all. They said, no, the president pulled no punches today.

INSKEEP: Does the United States have some leverage because it is the debtor. China, because it has loaned so much money, has an interest in the healthy American economy.

HORSLEY: You know the old saying, you owe the bank 10 bucks the bank owns you; you owe the bank a million bucks you own the bank. China definitely has an interest in seeing the U.S. economy succeed.

INSKEEP: NPRs Scott Horsley is in Beijing. Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.

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