The stakes are high ahead of a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It was seen as a test of whether the two leaders could find a way to stop a sharp deterioration in relations between the two countries.
While the Americans briefed the media in advance on what they hoped to gain from the meeting, it was always harder to understand the Chinese’s intentions. While Xi’s near-term goals may not be too far from Biden’s, longer-term views are harder to reconcile.
The context is that the relationship between the two superpowers is the worst in decades, some say as bad as they have been since the last century. us The late 1970s formally recognized the Communist government and established full diplomatic relations.
The list of questions that divide them is long and the opinions are deeply ingrained; godly Taiwanto Hong Kong, North Korea, trade and technological development.
Neither side expressed much optimism about the meeting in advance. In fact, a major breakthrough is considered highly unlikely.
But there are vague hints that there is at least some common ground in the need for communication.
Xi Jinping’s opening remarks emphasized the importance of face-to-face communication and the fact that the world is watching. He said, “I expect China and the United States to properly handle the relationship between the two countries.”
This statement may be more poignant than self-reflection. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan, an autonomous island China considers its own, has angered the Chinese and has been labelled highly “irresponsible.” It was after her visit that ongoing conversations about issues such as climate change ceased.
However, China does take its place on the world stage very seriously. It wants to be seen and treated as a global leader. After a prolonged period of isolation bought off by a strict zero-coronavirus policy, President Xi may acknowledge the importance of reappearing at such a high-level meeting.
Chinese leaders are also likely to quietly admit that while it will not compromise on many of its cherished issues, any kind of conflict with the United States would be disastrous.
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In fact, there is clear evidence that Xi Jinping wants to convene the meeting. It will take months of quiet diplomacy to pave the way, and it will not be possible without the will at the top.
However, the shared desire to keep the lines of communication open is likely to be so far.
The real problem is that the current differences between China and the United States are not just a series of issues.
Underpinning these issues is a deep distrust of each other’s underlying motives.
The Chinese believe that the US has strategic interests and actually has a policy of trying to contain China, suppress China and prevent it from becoming the economic and geopolitical king it wants to be.
The U.S. believes that China wants to promote authoritarianism around the world and stifle U.S. interests in Asia.
While both sides may recognize the importance of this relationship to global stability, these ideological positions remain difficult to reconcile.