Honolulu: US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao presented duelling trade agendas at a Pacific summit on Saturday that underscored growing tensions between the world’s two biggest economies.
Hu Jintao and Obama laid out competing visions of world trade in back-to-back speeches in Honolulu, and Obama then warned Hu Jintao in private that Americans were growing increasingly frustrated over what they see as unfair Chinese trade and currency practices.
Taking China to task with some of his sharpest language yet, Obama used an address to chief executive officers at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit to threaten punitive economic steps unless it started “playing by the rules”, as he sought to reassert US influence in a region vital to America’s interests.
China’s President Hu Jintao (L) and US President Barack Obama. Photo: Bloomberg
Earlier, Hu Jintao insisted on more clout for China as an emerging global power. He also made clear that Beijing prefers to work through the existing global trade architecture rather than allow itself to be subject to US-led efforts to pry open the Asia-Pacific markets.
When the two leaders appeared together before reporters as they started face-to-face talks, both sought to play down differences that have tested US-China ties, stressing instead the need for cooperation to tackle global challenges.
But behind closed doors, Obama took US complaints to a new level. It was unclear whether it was a serious effort to get Beijing to change its ways or, at least in part, political posturing aimed at US voters who will decide whether to give him a second term.
Obama faces a tough 2012 re-election battle, in which Republican opponents accuse him of not being tough enough on China.
Obama told Hu Jintao that the American people and US businesses were “growing increasingly impatient and frustrated with the pace of change” in the US-China economic relationship, senior White House aide Michael Froman said.
Even as Obama used his meeting with executives to highlight US concerns about a rising China, he asserted that the US was partly to blame for having lost ground and said his administration was working to change that.
“We’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades,” Obama said. “We’ve kind of taken for granted—well, people will want to come here—and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America,” Obama said.
Hosting the Apec summit in his native Hawaii, Obama said earlier the “broad outlines” of a deal had been reached on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade pact being negotiated by the US and eight other countries.
It was hailed by US officials as Obama’s signature achievement of the summit and a possible template for an eventual Apec-wide free trade zone. Apec’s 21 members make up the world’s most dynamic region and account for more than half of global economic output.
Obama sees increased trade opportunities as an engine for job creation at home that could help him through a troubled 2012 re-election bid with the US economy still struggling.