Within hours of landing here on Monday, President
His efforts will be tested by the Republican-led
"The president's view is if we have an opportunity to bring two Americans home, reunite with them their families, remove the final Americans who are in detention in North Korea, that that's an opportunity we should take," a senior administration official said.
Many presidents in the latter days of their time in office have turned to the world stage, finding influence there even as they become less important in domestic politics.
President Reagan traveled to the Berlin Wall and called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear it down. President Clinton helped conclude a historic peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
"This is Obama's chance to lead," said Patrick Cronin, head of the Asia program at the Center for a New American Security. "He's still the commander in chief."
He spoke up in support of democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Even though he’s trying to work out agreements with Chinese President
Obama doesn’t intend to stop at public rhetoric. Days ago he signaled that he still plans to reform the immigration system this year by executive order, a promise that inspired House Speaker
On Monday, he ordered an immigration change of a different order – extending visas for Chinese businesspeople who hold one-year passes to enter and leave the country.
The extension means those visa-holders may now come and go for 10 years, a change American business leaders have been asking for to help open trade channels between the two countries.
Negotiators are "intensively engaging" to get the deal done, according to a joint statement from the countries working on the elusive agreement. "The end," they said, "is coming into focus."
China is mindful that Obama has just two years left in his term and will be hamstrung by the GOP-controlled Congress. Xi, who assumed the Chinese presidency last year, is expected to serve until 2023. That may lead to a disconnect in the two sides' priorities.
Looming over the relationship – on both sides – is a sense that China is catching up to the U.S. by many measures. China's gross domestic product is No. 2 in the world, though it's significantly behind the U.S.