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6 key issues awaiting Xi and Obama in Washington

Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the U.S. comes at a time of unique economic and political challenges for both nations.

China's state-run China Daily newspaper said Xi's visit should underscore the message that both Beijing and Washington are "committed to building a new model of major-country relationship based on non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual cooperation and a win-win principle."

But several major, hot-button issues have contributed to ongoing U.S.-China tensions, and those will likely be on the White House's agenda during this week's visit.

Cybertheft and hacking

Remember last year, when the FBI issued a "Wanted" poster for five Chinese military officials accused of computer hacking and cyberattacks?

Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said it was the first time charges were filed against a "state actor" for these types of online attacks. "For too long, the Chinese government has blatantly sought to use cyber-espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries," FBI Director James B. Comey added at the time.

And a 2013 Pentagon report directly attributed intrusions against U.S. government computer systems to the Chinese government and military.

China has denied the charges, and its government officials have called the allegations "groundless."

But this past weekend came word that China and the U.S. are negotiating an unprecedented cyberspace arms-control accord. The agreement would bind each nation to not using cyberweapons during peacetime to harm each other's critical infrastructure.

Intellectual property

A 2011 report by the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated that U.S. firms lost more than $48 billion in sales, royalties or licensing fees in China in 2009 due to intellectual property rights (IPR) infringements. It also said if IPR protections in China improved, U.S. employment could increase by 2.1 million jobs.

Last winter, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO summit in Beijing, President Obama said the U.S. expected China "to become an innovative economy that values the protection of intellectual property rights, and rejects cybertheft of trade secrets for commercial gain."

Lawmakers expect Obama to pressure his Chinese counterpart on IPR piracy. "President Xi's visit presents an opportunity for diplomatic discussions on this important issue," Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, told the Everett, Washington, Daily Herald. DelBene, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, noted the president can establish sanctions against those responsible for such actions and "should act appropriately regarding the recent effort to pilfer the intellectual property of U.S. companies."

Territorial disputes

China's military buildup in the South China Sea -- and especially its ongoing creation of artificial islands there for apparent military use -- is worrisome to the U.S. and some Asian nations.

Beijing has laid claim to most of the South China Sea, despite similar claims from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China is also involved in a territorial dispute with Japan over a group of uninhabited islands north of Taiwan in the East China Sea, which has led to some ramming incidents between Chinese and Japanese vessels in recent years.

Japan's parliament recently voted to allow its military to fight overseas for the first time since World War II, further raising concerns that growing tensions among the regional rivals could trigger a confrontation.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, about half of global oil tanker shipments pass through the South China Sea, and region is home to five of the world's top 10 ports. So, it seems to be in both Washington's and Beijing's best interests to defuse rising conflicts in the region.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

The not-yet-finalized Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a major free-trade agreement between 12 Asia-Pacific countries, including the U.S. The nations involved in it represent around 40 percent of the world's GDP, 30 percent of global exports and a quarter of global imports.

Seen as part of the Obama Administration's "pivot" toward Asia, the White House says it will use the TPP to renegotiate NAFTA and to "help level the playing field for workers and businesses here at home by ensuring our trade partners are playing by the rules."

China, however, isn' part of the TPP, and this has been a sticking point in Beijing's relations with the U.S. Chinese media has called the TPP an "attempt to squeeze China out of the main discussions on Asian trade agreements." In response, Beijing is helping to set up a separate Asian free-trade zone, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which notably excludes the U.S.

The Chinese economy

This year hasn't been especially good for China's economy, the second largest in the world behind the U.S. Along with its recent stock market meltdown, Chinese growth has been slowing more rapidly than expected.

Jerry Nickelsburg, a professor of economics at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, said China's economy is certain to be on the agenda this week in Washington.

He told CBS MoneyWatch that China is working to transition from export-led economic growth to an economy that is "self-sustaining and dependent upon domestic consumption of goods and services." Nickelsburg also said issues concerning market access, both the U.S. in China and vice-versa, are likely to be discussed.


When it comes to several of the major international issues of the day, many experts are hoping Beijing and Washington can come to some sort of terms and end up sharing some diplomatic common ground. Those issues include the growing chaos and terrorism in the Middle East, the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Iran's nuclear program and perhaps even relations between China and Taiwan.

"With Washington dealing with a Middle East marked by chaos and an Eastern Europe facing Russian belligerence, President Obama does not want to see the U.S.-China relationship develop into a third front of tensions," the Brookings Institution's Jeffrey Bader, a former White House national security specialist, wrote recently. "A sharing of strategic perspectives that reveals a common or at least parallel approach to maintaining global stability should help prevent that."