WASHINGTON (CN) – As the United States and China begin the first day of their Strategic Economic Dialogue Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took an optimistic tone a range of issues involving China, including climate change. Both countries appeared to place great importance on the meeting. The Chinese arrived with 150 diplomats, and Obama said in his address, “The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century.”
Free trade, climate change, and North Korea seemed to be on the list of issues for the executive dialogue, with Chinese President Hu Jintao attending.
China did not cooperate well with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during a meeting in Italy a couple weeks ago, but Obama appeared optimistic on the issue. He noted that both nations consume and pollute the most. “Let’s be frank,” he said in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. “Neither of us profits from a growing dependence on foreign oil, nor can we spare our people from the ravages of climate change unless we cooperate.”
He also addressed nuclear nonproliferation, with special attention given to North Korea. “The more nations acquire these weapons, the more likely it is that they will be used,” he said. “Neither America nor China has an interest in a terrorist acquiring a bomb, or a nuclear arms race breaking out in East Asia.”
“A balance of terror cannot hold,” he said, calling for the eventual disarmament of all nuclear powers.
After listing terrorism, disease, and local destabilizing conflicts like those in Sudan and Darfur, Obama said, “All of these issues are rooted in the fact that no one nation can meet the challenges of the 21st century on its own, nor effectively advance its interests in isolation.”
He played on the diversity of the United States, especially on its Chinese heritage. “We know the talent of the Chinese people because they have helped to create this great country,” he said. “My own Cabinet contains two Chinese Americans,” referring to Energy Sec. Steven Chu and Veterans Affairs Sec. Eric Shinseki.
“Some in China think that America will try to contain China’s ambitions. Some in America think that there is something to fear in a rising China” Obama remarked. “I take a different view. And I believe President Hu takes a different view, as well.”
Obama ended with the quote of the great Chinese philosopher Mencius. “A trail through the mountains, if used, becomes a path in a short time, but, if unused, becomes blocked by grass in an equally short time,” he said. “Our task is to forge a path to the future that we seek for our children to prevent mistrust or the inevitable differences of the moment from allowing that trail to be blocked by grass.”