WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will offer his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping a full state welcome at the White House on Sept. 25, amid deep and growing tensions between the top economic and political powers.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will host Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, a Chinese folk singing superstar, “at an official state dinner on the evening of Sept. 25,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The prestigious welcome comes after Obama made a similar trip to China in November 2014.
Xi is seen as one of the most powerful Chinese leaders in decades, but his vision of creating a “Chinese dream” and returning the country to great power status has met economic headwinds.
After decades of breakneck growth, the Chinese economy is weakening, creating a worldwide ripple effect, from slower trade volumes to skittishness on global equity and commodity markets.
The visit will be an opportunity to “expand U.S.-China cooperation” and “address areas of disagreement constructively,” said Earnest, in a nod to problems ranging from cyberattacks to Beijing’s controversial maritime claims.
Ahead of the visit, Obama has warned that the scale of cyberattacks from China was “not acceptable,” and officials have floated the idea of sanctions.
China could “choose to make this an area of competition,” Obama said, but he issued a stern warning: “I guarantee you, we will win if we have to.”
Both the United States and China have developed vast cybersecurity and intelligence gathering capabilities.
Beijing has been blamed for a recent breach of U.S. federal government personnel files that left millions of officials — including some at the very top levels — exposed.
“We have been quite clear that the United States does not engage in the kind of cyberactivity that yields a significant financial benefit for American companies,” said Earnest.
“That’s precisely the kind of behavior and activity that we’ve raised concerns about with regard to China.”
The White House is also deeply concerned by a series of Chinese claims to disputed territories in the South and East China Sea.
A Chinese admiral this week raised eyebrows by claiming that the entire South China Sea belongs to China, because it has China in the name.
Beijing has long staked a claim to around 90 percent of the South China Sea, but much to the anger of Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and others has in the last decade moved to realize that claim.
Beijing has intensified its building on disputed atolls, and deployed fishing vessels and military equipment to disputed zones.
Xi’s visit is also likely to see sharp words over China’s control of its currency, which Washington says contributes to vast trade imbalances by boosting Chinese exports.
But executives from America’s largest companies called on Obama and Xi to focus on the positive and make progress in securing a bilateral investment treaty.
A group of 94 CEOs have written to the two presidents to say a “high-quality” agreement would have an “immediate and tangible impact for both of our economies.”
Among the signatories are Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs.
The investment treaty may provide better reciprocated market access for U.S. and Chinese firms.
But negotiations so far have seen repeated efforts to carve out exceptions in sectors ranging from banking to aerospace, making the agreement patchy.