China-US high-stakes summit highly anticipated
Observers cautiously optimistic on Xi-Biden meeting, serving to stabilize bilateral ties ahead of US 2024 elections
Published: Nov 12, 2023 08:15 PM
China-US relations Photo: GT

China-US relations Photo: GT

The world is anticipating the most significant diplomatic event in the coming days as the Chinese and US presidents are set to meet on the sidelines of the 30th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in San Francisco this week, an interaction between the two largest economies that analysts regard is crucial for world peace and development, as well as the collective future and destiny. 

Ahead of the high-stakes summit, a fresh round of economic and trade talks between the two sides resulted in some positive signals, especially a consensus against decoupling and the need to intensify communication. 

Both Chinese and US experts are cautiously optimistic for the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden. On one hand, they believe that the face-to-face summit - the first in a year - will help both sides get a more realistic understanding about each other's strategic intentions and prevent divergences from turning into out-of-control conflicts. On the other hand, the meeting may serve to stabilize bilateral relations in the short term, as uncertainty will grow when the US enters its election cycle next year. 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in an earlier release that the two leaders will have in-depth communication on issues of strategic, overarching and fundamental importance in shaping China-US relations and major issues concerning world peace and development. Chinese experts told the Global Times that the Taiwan question will be one of the topics of concern for the Chinese side, and that China hopes to enhance communication and coordination, helping the US side to have a more objective view and judgment of US-China relations. 

There are high expectations for positive results, some experts predicted, including in people-to-people exchanges by increasing more flights and encouraging exchange students. The resumption of military-to-military communication, which is expected by the US side, could also be on the list, they noted. 

Positive atmosphere 

Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng met with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen several times during his visit to the US from November 8 to 12, with talks adding up to 10 hours. The pair struck consensus on strengthening communication and against "decoupling," according to a statement released by the Ministry of Finance on Saturday. 

Both sides agree to strengthen communication, seek consensus, manage differences, and avoid misunderstandings and accidents that could lead to escalating friction. They also agreed against economic "decoupling" and to work together to address common challenges, including economic growth, financial stability and regulation.

The consensus against "decoupling" in the fresh round of economic and trade talks has no doubt sent positive signals to business communities in both China and the US, as it signals strengthened high-level engagement between the world's two largest economies, Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Nevertheless, Gao said from the results, there are also many areas that are not as satisfactory. For example, there is no progress in major concerns from the Chinese side, such as sanctions against Chinese companies and the cancelation of punitive tariffs.

Any substantial outcome will remain very difficult and is a test of political wisdom for both leaders, Gao said.

Some US media reported that Xi is expected to speak to top American business executives at a dinner following the bilateral meeting, in a signal showing that China remains open for foreign investment. 

"I hope the meeting will lead both countries to a more realist picture of the relationship. America cannot decouple its trade and investment completely from China without causing enormous damage to itself and the global economy," Joseph Nye, former dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, told the Global Times during the weekend. 

Partial decoupling or "de-risking" on security issues will continue, but total economic decoupling would be prohibitively costly, Nye said, noting that there are also ecological aspects of interdependence, which make decoupling impossible. 

"No country can tackle climate change, the pandemic threat or other transnational problems alone. For better and worse, we are locked in a 'cooperative rivalry.' The situation is nothing like Cold War containment. I hope the leaders will reaffirm this reality," he said. 

Issues on the table 

Some US media reported that the Biden-Xi meeting is not expected to lead to many, if any, major announcements. The AP, for example, said that differences between the two powers certainly will not be resolved. Instead, Biden is looking toward "managing the competition, preventing the downside risk of conflict and ensuring channels of communication are open," according to the media report, citing a Biden administration official. 

Some major topics on the table for the two sides concern how to arrive at a proper and correct interpretation of the strategic rivalry and how to manage differences. The US cannot allow some people to continue provocations on the Taiwan question, creating new confrontation across the Straits, Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University, told the Global Times. 

Another possible issue to be discussed involves judgments about each other's strategic intentions. The US cannot simply allege China as "being the main factor of instability in the region" and it should have a more objective judgement and understanding about China's strategic intentions, Zhu said. 

US officials said the leaders would also discuss the prospect of reopening military communication channels that China shut last year after then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan region, the Financial Times said. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr, told reporters on Friday that he had sent a letter to the Chinese side about re-establishing military dialogue. He believes that this is important to prevent misunderstandings that could cascade into crises, The New York Times said. 

"It's highly possible that the military dialogue could resume," Da Wei, director of the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Sunday. "But we need to wait and see to what extent the dialogue will resume." 

In other areas such as people-to-people exchanges and climate change, Da believes there will be more positive results coming out of the summit. "For example, by increasing more flights between the two countries, coming up with encouraging measures for students and so on."

The G20 Bali meeting in November 2022 had initiated the process of setting a "floor" and establishing "guardrails," as a result of which lines of communication were reestablished and working groups formed across a range of issue areas, Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for China-America Studies, told the Global Times. 

"Looking ahead, the most important takeaway from the San Francisco meeting could be the further consolidation of ties and the ability to troubleshoot on short notice any major irritant that might arise in 2024, just as the US enters a raucous election season," Gupta said.