RANCHO MIRAGE Even as they pledged to build "a new model" of relations, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China ended two days of informal meetings Saturday, moving closer on pressuring a nuclear North Korea and addressing climate change, but remaining sharply divided over cyberespionage and other issues that have divided the countries for years.
Although the leaders of the world's two biggest powers made no public statements on their second day of talks, their disagreements over cyberattacks as well as arms sales to Taiwan, maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea and manipulation of the Chinese currency spilled into the open when senior officials from both countries described the meetings in detail.
From the outset, the White House said the purpose of the meetings was not to announce new deals or understandings "deliverables," in diplomatic parlance but to create a more comfortable relationship between Obama and Xi, who took full power in March, that could avoid plunging the two nations into escalating conflict.
Even so, the White House announced that the two countries had reached one concrete accord that environmentalists welcomed as a potential step in combating climate change. China and the United States agreed to discuss ways to reduce emissions of hydroflourocarbons, known as HFCs, that are used in refrigerants and insulating foams.
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, one of several senior Democrats who urged Obama to raise the issue in these talks, praised the announcement. "A global phase-down of HFCs would eliminate more heat-trapping gases by 2050 than the United States emits in an entire decade," he said in a statement.
Obama and Xi also found areas of acord over North Korea, which under pressure from China has muted what had been a flurry of belligerent statements after nuclear and missile tests this year.
Obama's administration has welcomed China's new assertiveness with its neighbor and ally, believing that it reflects a new calculation that a constant state of crisis on the Korean Peninsula is destabilizing for the Chinese as well.
The two presidents held a lengthy discussion on North Korea over what Tom Donilon, Obama's departing national security adviser, called "a very lively dinner" on Friday night, and he said that they agreed that dealing with the country's nuclear arsenal was a promising arena for "enhanced cooperation."
"They agreed that North Korea has to denuclearize," and that their two nations would work together to achieve that through pressure on Pyongyang, Donilon said, referring to the North's capital.
The two presidents met for nearly eight hours beginning Friday evening, and appeared eager to redefine the relationship in a way that would allow their countries to overcome their economic, political and diplomatic differences.
On the most contentious issue between the two countries in recent months American accusations that Chinese corporations linked to the military had pilfered military and economic secrets and property in cyberspace the officials seemed to speak past each other. That dominated Saturday's talks at a secluded estate, but ended without a clear acknowledgment by Xi of any culpability.
China's state councilor, Yang Jiechi, said China strongly opposed hacking and cyberespionage and was itself a victim, while Donilon warned that the threat from China threatened to constrain the spirit of partnership Obama and Xi publicly declared they wanted.
Obama warned that if the hacking continued, Donilon said, it "was going to be a very difficult problem in the economic relationship."