Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama are expected to lay guidelines on a new type of great power relationship between Beijing and Washington at a "historic and strategically-important" summit starting Friday at Sunnylands in California.
The informal get-together is scheduled to start around 4 pm Friday, followed by a private dinner Friday evening and private discussions Saturday morning.
The first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since the leadership transition in both countries has "profound historic and strategic significance," China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said Thursday.
The bilateral summit has drawn worldwide attention, with the New York Times, The Telegraph and The Australian comparing its significance to that of the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Geneva, which "ultimately paved the way for the ending of the Cold War." The Telegraph also commented that there is the tantalizing prospect that the two leaders can start the most productive new phase in US-China relations since Richard Nixon met Mao Zedong in 1972.
The meeting comes at a sensitive time, as the US has accused China of cyber hacking and US defense secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed the deployment of 60 percent of the US navy fleet to the Asia Pacific region by 2020.
"Both leaders have realized there is a danger that the rising power and the established power could come to a conflict at some point," said senior administration officials at a White House conference call Tuesday. "To avoid the rivalry, it is important to put in place ways of interaction," they said.
While exchanging ideas on specific issues, Xi and Obama will also hold discussions at a strategic level, shedding light on a new type of great power relationship, which both sides vowed to develop.
The model seeks to forge a new path, which is different from the old expectations where a rising power is likely to clash with an established power, said China's Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang last week ahead of Xi's visit.
The idea of the new relationship was first raised by Xi in February 2012 during his visit to the US as Chinese vice president, and has received positive feedback from Washington over the past year. In a phone conversation congratulating Xi on his election as president on March 14, Obama said the US hopes to work with China to build a new type of inter-power relations based on healthy competition rather than a strategic game.
"We have to look at what the world will look like five or 10 years from now. Danger has always been there. The established superpower has been reluctant to share with the rising superpower. We have to avoid confrontation or conflict," Stanley Rosen, a political science professor at the University of Southern California, told the Global Times.
Zheng said that the new relationship should be established on the basis of "equality, mutual trust, inclusiveness, mutual learning and win-win cooperation."
Tao Wenzhao, a researcher with the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it is not going to be easy to foster a new kind of relationship, given the reality of US politics. "But times have changed. The respective interests of China and the US as well as regional and global peace, stability and prosperity all require the development of such ties," Tao said.
Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at Washington DC-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Global Times, "There is competition and cooperation, and we have different dreams. But recently, competition has outpaced cooperation."
The US pivot to Asia has raised suspicions in China over Washington's real intentions behind the move. Meanwhile, the US has also shown growing anxiety toward China's military and economic might.
Paal called for "a constructive agenda for governments to pursue and to out compete our competitive instincts."
"The two sides have their respective core interests. Developing a new inter-power relationship wouldn't have them compromise on their core interests but to find common grounds," said Ruan Zongze, a deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies, adding that the new model wouldn't be accomplished in one step but to be gradually expanded.
On the table
China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said the two leaders will exchange ideas on major strategic issues that affect the development of the China-US relationship, and global and regional issues of concern to both countries.
The Chinese side will probably put forward issues related to sovereignty and territorial integrity, including US arms sales to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama, Qu Xing, director of the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times.
China would like the US to ease restrictions on Chinese high-tech product exports to the US and talk about Chinese companies facing restrictions in terms of investment in the US, Qu said.
During a White House conference call Tuesday, US administration officials said the US has a very broad agenda to cover with the Chinese, including the situation in North Korea, territorial disputes and maritime security issues in the Pacific region, and the ongoing necessity of cyber security.
"China hopes the US will play an active role in resolving territorial disputes instead of escalating tensions," Qu said.
Chen Mingming, a member of China's foreign ministry's Public Diplomacy Advisory Panel, said China and the US do not have substantial disputes when dealing with issues on the Korean Peninsula.
Ruan Zongze, a deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies, said the cyber security issue has been exacerbated by the US military, business and intelligence fields, and the two sides need to establish a mechanism for negotiations while maintaining their own cyber security defenses.
US officials said Obama would raise American human rights concerns as well at the meeting, and said they will talk about how the two countries' militaries will operate in the Asia Pacific theater.
Other issues include cooperation on global economic issues like climate and energy security and how to work within institutions like the G20.
The officials noted that the US would like to see China take additional steps to respect the interests and the rights of US companies doing business in China.