Pope Trumps Xi (no pun intended)

The Main Point

Xi Jinping’s US visit was overshadowed by the simultaneous papal visit, leading many to think the timing was an intentional attempt to downplay the visit in the US. As expected, common interests were emphasized and small agreements announced, but nothing major occurred.

Key Events

Papal visit overshadows Xi’s visit

Xi Jinping’s plan to visit the US in September was announced as early as May of 2015. Yet the final date was not set until mid-September. As it happened, Xi’s visit coincided with the visit of Pope Francis, which received extremely intense media attention. Given recent tensions between the US and China, mainly related to cyber espionage and the South China Sea, one interpretation is that the US side wanted to downplay Xi’s visit and China agreed, knowing that it could still focus on the presidential meeting back in China. In the end the main story from the meeting is that America barely noticed that it happened, an unexpected result for a meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies.


Subsequent to the presidential meeting the following was revealed relative to discussions on a variety of issues:


Cyber Espionage: Two sides reached a “common understanding” that neither should engage in state-sponsored cyber-intrusions to steal intellectual property. Also agreed to jointly seek “international rules of the road for appropriate conduct in cyberspace.”

Environment: More progress on climate change, with Mr. Xi announcing a new commitment to start a national cap-and-trade system in 2017 to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and both countries outlining ambitious goals for reaching a global climate pact at a December summit meeting in Paris

Iran and North Korea: The two sides celebrated their cooperation on the nuclear accord with Iran and said they were both committed to pressing ahead against the North Korean nuclear problem,

South China Sea: Not much common ground. Mr. Obama said he told Mr. Xi that he had “significant concerns” over the activities, “ Xi responded by saying “We have the right to uphold our own territorial sovereignty and lawful and legitimate maritime rights and interests.”

Bilateral Investment Treaty: Two sides made progress a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) that would open up closed sectors of China’s economy. Senior U.S. officials said they were able to get China to shrink the list of sectors it is seeking to exclude from the framework, known as a bilateral investment treaty, or BIT.

Sources for this Story:  

Obama announces ‘understanding’ with China’s Xi on cyber theft but remains wary




U.S., China Make Progress Toward Trade and Investment Deal



Obama and Xi Jinping of China Agree to Steps on Cybertheft