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Obama, Xi to Continue Talks on Thorny Issues


President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, walk on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, walk on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.

South China Sea, cyberattacks, China's human rights situation and cooperation on climate issues among topics of discussion Friday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday continue talks expected to be clouded by differences over alleged Chinese cyber spying, Beijing's economic policies and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Vice President Joe Biden led the welcoming delegation as Xi's plane touched down at Joint Base Andrews Thursday on the second leg of a week-long trip to the U.S. that began in Seattle, where the Chinese leader sought to reassure U.S. companies he is working to create a more favorable investment climate in his country.

Later, President Obama hosted Xi at a private working dinner, where White House aides said they would begin grappling with the main issues that divide their countries.

On Friday, Xi will be treated to full honors, including a 21-gun salute, a formal summit, a joint news conference and a black tie state dinner.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (l) and Vice President Joe Biden during the arrival ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sept. 24, 2015.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (l) and Vice President Joe Biden during the arrival ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sept. 24, 2015.

Climate change

Though the talks will deal with a raft of uncomfortable topics, U.S. officials on Thursday highlighted an area of cooperation between the world's two largest countries: climate change.

Xi on Friday will unveil a new cap and trade program meant to regulate China's worst-in-the-world emissions, according to U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

During Obama's visit to Beijing last year, the two countries agreed to reduce climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions, in what was seen as a landmark moment for the world's two worst polluters.

Cyber hacking

Earlier, U.S. officials said cyber security is expected to be one of the main focal points in talks between the U.S. and Chinese presidents.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said, “We continue to have serious concerns about China’s practices in the cyber realm and that is probably not going to be abated anytime soon.”

President Obama has said he is considering U.S. sanctions against China in response to attacks.

Cyber attacks are among the "difficult issues in the U.S.-China relationship" that 26 Congress members are urging Obama to take up in talks with Xi. In a letter Monday, the representatives urged the president to directly address "pressing areas of disagreement."

The U.S. national flag is pictured at the Office of Personnel Management building in Washington, June 5, 2015.

The U.S. national flag is pictured at the Office of Personnel Management building in Washington, June 5, 2015.

Fingerprints stolen

On Wednesday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management said a further investigation into the data breach reported earlier this year revealed that more than 5.5 million fingerprint records were stolen, five times as many as first thought.

U.S. officials have not accused China of the breach. However, U.S. investigators have told reporters privately that they believe the Chinese government is responsible.

U.S. business leaders are seeking personal assurances from President Xi that their companies will be treated fairly when they do business in China, and that Beijing will scale back its alleged large-scale cyber theft of commercial secrets that has cost American companies billions of dollars in recent years.

“China and the United States have had a late and feeble start to consultations on what to do about managing the rules of cyberspace,” said Carnegie Endowment for International Peace analyst Douglas Paal in an op-ed for China Daily.

FILE - An aerial view of one of the structures built by China at the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef, Spratly Islands in South China Sea.

FILE - An aerial view of one of the structures built by China at the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef, Spratly Islands in South China Sea.

South China Sea

Another area of disagreement expected to be discussed is China's controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Most pressing is China's island-building efforts in the Spratly Islands chain, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

“We do not take positions on claims,” said Kirby, but added, “it is unhelpful for the status quo to be changed in an overt manner, whether it is through reclamation or militarization of reclaimed land.”

The U.S. has demanded China stop those activities, calling them out of step with international norms and a risk for sparking conflict in the region.

Earlier this week, Xi told The Wall Street Journal that the Spratly Islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

Human rights

China's human rights record is another source of friction, and several rights groups are urging President Obama to not shy away from the issue during his meetings with President Xi.

"It's a big and complicated relationship, and so there are a lot of topics vying for attention," acknowledged Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. "But we certainly think that the deterioration of the rights situation in China under Xi merits special attention."

VOA's William Gallo contributed to this report.

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