It has been a yr since President Xi and President Biden final met, and it is laborious to overstate simply what a rollercoaster US-China relations have been on since then.
The reality this assembly is occurring in any respect is the results of months of delicate planning.
But for all of the “tough-line”, “hard-man” pictures that each males attempt to broadcast domestically, there’s a mutual recognition of 1 key reality: it might price extra, each politically and economically, to permit relations to spiral.
It was simply 9 months in the past that US-China relations hit what felt like all-time low because the so-called Chinese spy balloon was shot down over the US, plunging their diplomacy into disaster.
The huge backdrop of disagreements from Taiwan, the Indo-Pacific, the Ukraine conflict, tech controls and financial sanctions meant the connection felt as precarious and as harmful because it had in a long time.
But the summer season has seen a blitz of diplomatic efforts to attempt to restore issues, with a number of conferences of officers at varied ranges.
Both sides know the window for progress is slender.
Come subsequent yr, Taiwan’s presidential election will possible inflame tensions, after which the inevitable anti-China sentiment that may accompany the US election cycle will little doubt make issues worse.
The time to play statesmen and to push for his or her pursuits is now!
What do they need?
Don’t be below any phantasm, each Biden and Xi are coming to this desk with immense quantities of scepticism concerning the different’s intentions.
Any significant breakthrough is very unlikely.
What they each search is a level of what is being known as “tactical stabilisation” – a pause in deterioration that may permit every to pursue its pursuits in a extra predictable surroundings.
On the US aspect, there may be an understanding that solely a gathering of the highest males will unlock the Chinese system to allow cooperation on among the “easier” points like local weather change and international well being.
There can be a hope that military-to-military talks would possibly be capable to restart after being shut down following former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial go to to Taiwan final yr.
From China’s perspective, a pause in deterioration provides it the house to proceed to construct up its financial and navy power to raised compete going ahead.
The visuals are additionally essential to Xi Jinping domestically.
It has not been an excellent yr for him, with a chaotic finish to his hated zero COVID coverage, a faltering financial system and deteriorating relations with a number of western nations. Being seen to have the ability to handle this important relationship is essential to casting himself as a reliable statesman.
So what’s going to they talk about?
There are so many disagreements more likely to be raised, however these are the highest three on the listing:
Territorial claims and navy rigidity
Perhaps high of the lengthy listing of points between them is China’s more and more assertive behaviour in contested areas that it claims as its personal.
Most distinguished is Taiwan, the self-governing island that China sees as a breakaway province. Xi has expressed a number of instances his need to “reunify” Taiwan, Biden has promised to defend it.
The different area the place tensions are rising is the South China Sea.
China claims the overwhelming majority as its worldwide waters, regardless of rival claims from the Philippines and others. In 2016, a world arbitral tribunal dominated overwhelmingly in favour of the Philippines.
However, in current months there have been frequent confrontations between Chinese and Filipino vessels, and right here too the US has reiterated its dedication to help the Philippines.
The US claims that in each areas China’s behaviour is changing into more and more aggressive and, in some circumstances harmful. It has launched movies of Chinese jets flying hair-raisingly near US ones, in a single current case, simply 10ft away.
The Americans say the chance of accidents and escalation is grave.
China, for its half, says that it’s US conduct that’s the harmful power. It sees American presence in these areas as blatant provocation in its yard.
These are deeply intractable points, the perfect that is perhaps hoped for is a few kind of settlement to an offramp for if issues ever escalate.
The two leaders can even talk about the 2 main ongoing international conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.
In each, they’ve taken a drastically completely different tact.
When it involves Ukraine, China has tried to painting itself as a impartial peacemaker, one of many solely nations with the power to speak to each side.
The actuality, although, is that Xi has made no secret of his rising closeness to Putin and has quietly been offering Russia with finance, know-how and diplomatic cowl.
Meanwhile, within the Middle East, it has known as for a ceasefire and peace, nevertheless it has stopped in need of immediately condemning Hamas for the 7 October atrocities and state media has taken a decidedly pro-Palestinian tone.
In each circumstances, China’s strategy is in stark opposition to America’s, and it has criticised its rival for its full-throated help for each Israel and Ukraine and the provision of navy help.
At root, each have an curiosity within the different not gaining benefit or affect off the again of the outcomes of those conflicts.
Tech and financial sanctions
There remains to be a raft of restrictions on know-how and financial sanctions that exist between them.
Just within the final month, new ones have been introduced on each side, with China proscribing US entry to graphite (an important part in making batteries) and the US additional proscribing Chinese entry to semiconductors.
The purpose on each side is to hinder the opposite’s capability to develop in key areas resembling AI. But this commerce conflict hurts them each as they continue to be main buying and selling companions and the 2 economies are extremely reliant on one another.
Xi specifically has a have to mitigate these points.
Amidst a flagging financial system, he’s making an attempt to woo international funding again to China and is predicted to satisfy with US enterprise leaders whereas in San Francisco.
A clean summit would possibly assist him stave off, a minimum of briefly, extra US restrictions and it might assist shore up the arrogance of some international companies spooked by the imposition of state-centric restrictions and raids on a handful of China-based US companies.