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US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping head for their bilateral meeting at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, on June 7, 2013/AFP

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Obama, Xi forge rapport in debut summit

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US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping head for their bilateral meeting at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, on June 7, 2013/AFP

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping head for their bilateral meeting at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, on June 7, 2013/AFP

RANCHO MIRAGE, California, Jun 9 – Barack Obama and Xi Jinping ended their first US-China summit, forging a rapport and policy understandings, if not breakthroughs, on North Korea, climate and cyber issues.

The presidents spent eight hours together over two days, in intimate groups with staff, over a dinner of lobster and steak, and strolling through the lush gardens of a California desert oasis, in a casual departure for Sino-US ties.

It was the first US-China summit since Xi, 59, assumed full power in March and Obama, architect of a rebalancing of US diplomacy towards Asia viewed with suspicion in Beijing, embarked on his second term.

Both sides wanted to loosen the formality of US-China talks — and appeared to succeed: at one point Obama and Xi, finding common ground as politicians, sketched respective visions for where they hoped to take their nations.

By the time Xi left on Saturday, US officials said, the two men had talked bluntly about a new flashpoint, cybersecurity, chided North Korea’s nuclear grandstanding and agreed a new joint push on climate change.

US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said the talks were “uniquely informal,” “constructive,” “wide-ranging,” and “positive” for a vital great power relationship which is often prickly and requires constant maintenance.

Chinese state counsellor Yang Jiechi said the leaders did not “shy away from differences,” including US arms sales to Taiwan and Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Obama and Xi agreed to work together for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, following nuclear and missile tests and wild warnings of atomic warfare from North Korea, Beijing’s troublesome nominal ally.

They achieved “quite a bit of alignment” on the issue, Donilon said, and praised recent steps by Beijing to quietly rebuke inexperienced North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

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Obama meanwhile made clear that a rash of suspected Chinese cyber attacks on US commercial property and military technology would be an “inhibitor” to relations.

Donilon said that Xi “acknowledged” how important the issue was to Washington, and left California in no doubt where Obama stood.

The leaders also offered directions to working group officials from both sides due to sit down to discuss cyber issues in July.

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