Obama-Xi summit: Less piety, more realism?

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama at Sunnylands, California (7 June)

One of my pet hates is when journalists claim that a meeting has been "overshadowed" by something or other.

What they usually mean is that they have decided to ignore the event in favour of a better story. It is rarely true that the participants in the summit of whatever find their attention wandering in the same direction as the journalists. What annoys me is the suggestion that this is an act of God that really changes the nature of the event, rather than a conscious editorial decision to put different story on TV or in the newspapers.

So it is with the summit in the desert and the series of leaks about the USA's national security. But they may have a curious effect.

They may embarrass President Obama enough to make the summit a little less pious, and a bit more realistic. The revelations about widespread mining of phone data, serious as they are, are neither here nor there in this context, although at least one report suggests Chinese activists are a bit taken aback.

But the latest leak in the Guardian may have an impact. It suggests President Obama asked his intelligence team to prepare for cyber attacks on unnamed targets. This may make American preaching on alleged Chinese cyber-attacks look a little hypocritical.

Of course there are differences. If the revelations are true, it would mean President Obama was making sure America could carry out what would amount to an act of war, taking out unnamed infrastructure and capabilities. What the Chinese are accused of is basically either spying or theft - taking information using sophisticated computer techniques.

But it suggests the two men have something real to talk about. President Obama made the point that this is uncharted territory - there are no international rules, similar to those that govern nuclear weapons or war. So if they are serious about forging a new global order, a blueprint for a better relationship, this is a pretty good place to start.

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