Washington, September 25

President Barack Obama hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping for his first US state visit today and the two announced a common vision for a global climate change agreement, a bright spot amid tensions over alleged Chinese cyber spying, Beijing’s economic policies and territorial disputes with its neighbours.

Obama greeted Xi on arrival at the White House for an elaborate ceremony on the South Lawn, including a military honour guard and 21-gun salute. The two leaders then sat down for a formal summit.

US and Chinese officials hoped to cast the talks in a favourable light by showcasing at least one area of cooperation — the global fight against climate change. The two leaders unveiled a deal to build on a landmark emissions agreement struck last year, outlining new steps they will take to deliver on pledges made then to slash their greenhouse gas emissions.

The measures included an announcement by Xi that China will launch a national carbon cap-and-trade system in 2017 to help contain the country’s emissions, which will build on seven regional pilot markets already operational in China. Such systems put limits on carbon emissions and open up markets for companies to buy and sell the right to produce emissions.

China’s status as a developing country has meant it is under no obligation to promise carbon cuts, a situation that has irked US politicians and other industrialised nations. For Obama, the deal with China strengthens his hand ahead of a global summit on climate change in Paris in December.

But the climate deal was likely to be overshadowed by major disagreements that underscore a growing rivalry between the world’s two biggest economic powers.

Obama told Xi that the United States would continue to speak out over its differences with China.

“We believe that nations are more successful and the world makes more progress when our companies compete on a level playing field, when disputes are resolved peacefully and when the universal human rights of all people are upheld,” he said in a welcoming speech, with Xi standing at his side.

On a more conciliatory note, Obama reiterated that the United States welcomes the rise of a China that is “stable, prosperous and peaceful.”

Xi then spoke of a need to be “broad-minded” about the two countries’ differences, to have “mutual respect” and “meet each other half-way” in order to improve relations.

As the two leaders spoke, dozens of pro- and anti-Xi protesters gathered near the White House grounds, waving flags, beating drums and shouting slogans.

Despite the ceremonial honours, the Chinese Communist leader, coming to Washington on the heels of Pope Francis, can expect nothing like the wall-to-wall US news coverage given the popular pontiff, who drew adoring crowds wherever he went. Today, live television broadcasts of the pope’s visit to the United Nations drowned out Xi’s arrival at the White House.

High on the agenda in the talks is cyber security, a growing source of strain after high-profile cyber attacks on US business and government databases blamed on Chinese hackers. Washington is considering sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals. Visiting Seattle on the first leg of his trip, Xi denied involvement by the Chinese government and pledged to work with the United States to fight cyber crime.