President Obama said Monday he would discuss the crisis in Ukraine with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the two leaders meet on the margins of a nuclear summit in the Netherlands.
China, a traditional ally of Moscow, has, so far, remained neutral in the dispute — a point which the White House has highlighted repeatedly as it seeks to isolate Russia internationally.
In brief remarks to reporters before their bilateral talks, the president said the nations’ shared interests would allow the leaders to “work through frictions that exist in our relations around issues like human rights, in dealing with maritime issues in the South China Sea and the Pacific region, in a way that is constructive and hopefully will lead to resolutions... and solutions for all parties."
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz joined national security adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry in the meeting, suggesting that North Korea’s nuclear program and China’s energy policies could play a substantial role on the talk.
Obama also stressed that, on trade, he wanted to make sure “that we are both abiding by the rules that allow for us to create jobs and prosperity in both of our countries.”
Xi, for his part, mentioned joint efforts to assist in the search for the missing Malaysian airliner in the Indian Ocean. The flight, which disappeared earlier this month, had 152 Chinese nationals and three Americans among the 227 passengers and 12 crew members aboard.
The Chinese president also said he enjoyed meeting first lady Michelle Obama and the president’s daughters before he left for Europe. The Obama women are spending their spring break in China on a sightseeing tour billed as a chance for “soft diplomacy” by the White House. In recent days, the first lady has toured the Great Wall, seen the Terracotta Army, visited a panda nursery, and played pingpong with China’s first lady.
Xi joked that the first lady had asked him to “express her best regards” to President Obama when they met.
He also said there was “greater space where China and the United States are cooperating” and that he hoped to pursue a new ”major power relationship” with the United States.
The meeting between Obama and Xi was announced by the White House last week and had not been originally anticipated, suggesting the crisis in Ukraine — or visit from the first lady — had encouraged the talks.
Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the White House looked for opportunities for the leaders “to meet whenever practicable.”
“This is a very important relationship that includes a panoply of important issues — economic, security and environmental issues,” Carney said.