Washington: President Xi Jinping has consolidated his hold over power much faster than anybody else in China since Deng Xiaoping but he taps into a nationalism that worries neighbours, US President Barack Obama said today.
"He (Xi) has consolidated power faster and more comprehensively than probably anybody since I think Deng Xiaoping. And everybody has been impressed by his clout inside of China after only a year and a half or two years," Obama said at a Business Roundtable here attended by top American corporate leaders.
However, he said, there are dangers on issues of human rights and on issues of clamping down on dissent.
"He taps into a nationalism that worries his neighbors and that we've seen manifest in these maritime disputes in the South China Sea as well as the Senkaku Islands," said the US President, adding that his recent meeting with Xi was productive and had some significant deliverables.
"On the other hand, I think they have a very strong interest in maintaining good relations with the United States. And my visit was a demonstration of their interest in managing this relationship effectively. Our goal with China has been to say to them, we, too, want a constructive relationship," he said.
"We've got an integrated world economy and the two largest economies in the world have to have an effective relationship together. It can be a win-win for both sides, but there are some things we need them to fix," Obama said.
"We are pressing them very hard on issues of cybersecurity and cyber theft, mostly in the commercial area. It is indisputable that they engage in it, and it is a problem. And we push them hard on it," he said.
President Xi is interested in a business investment treaty, he said.
"That could be significant because it could help to change the environment in which you are able to invest in China without being discriminated against relative to domestic firms. We've got a lot of work to do on that, but that's a work stream that we've set up," Obama said.
"So I think we have to be cautious and clear-eyed about our relationship with China, but there's no reason why we should not be able to manage that relationship in a way that is productive for us and productive for the world," he said.
Obama, however, appeared less optimistic about Russia.
"I have a very direct, blunt and businesslike relationship with (Russian President, Vladimir) Putin. We had a very productive relationship when Medvedev was President, even though Putin was still the power behind the throne," Obama said.
"In part because I think the situation in Ukraine caught him by surprise, he has been improvising himself into a nationalist, backward-looking approach to Russian policy that is scaring the heck out of his neighbours and is badly damaging his economy. And sanctions are having a big bite on their economy," Obama said.
Responding to questions, he exuded confidence in pushing back terror group ISIS in the Middle East.
"In the Middle East, you are going through a generational shift, a tectonic shift in the Middle East, and it is messy and it is dangerous. Part of it is sectarian schisms between Shia and Sunni, and conflicts between states that engage in proxy fights that are far more bloody and vicious and significant now than the conflict between Arabs and Jews. And you're seeing that primarily in Iraq and Syria," Obama said.
"I am confident about our ability to push ISIL back in Iraq. Syria I think is a broader and more difficult, long-term proposition, in part because the civil war has gotten so bad and the interests of outside parties are so conflicting that it may take time to let that thing settle down. But obviously we're very active not just militarily, but diplomatically," he said.
Obama pointed out that the longer-term "problem in the Middle East is -- and this relates to the economy -- the whole region in some ways has gone down a blind alley where too often Islam is now equated with rejection of education, modernity, women's participation -- all the things that allow you to thrive in a modern economy."
"That's not uniformly true, but too often those forces inside of Islam have been elevated, and moderate voices and voices that recognise Islam should be compatible with science, education, tolerance, openness, global commerce, productivity -- too often those voices have been silenced," he said.