Global Insights: Obama-Xi Summit a Step Toward U.S.-China Mutual Reassurance

Global Insights: Obama-Xi Summit a Step Toward U.S.-China Mutual Reassurance

This weekend’s informal U.S.-China summit in California had several key objectives: personal trust building between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping; halting the negative momentum in bilateral relations; reducing tensions regarding disputed issues; and signaling to domestic and international audiences that the United States and China can work together. But the main objective—and outcome—of the meeting was mutual reassurance.

The summit resulted in only general statements and did not achieve specific policy commitments. But it came at a very early date in China’s domestic political cycle, just three months after the completion of Beijing’s power transition. It therefore provides a valuable foundation on which to improve ties, even if moving from benign principles and statements of intent to concrete results will prove difficult.

The meeting took place against the background of bilateral relations that have seriously deteriorated on issues such as Chinese cyberespionage, Beijing’s assertive stance on territorial disputes, North Korea’s provocative behavior, restrictions on Chinese investment in the United States and Washington’s pivot to Asia, which Beijing sees as an attempt by the U.S. to contain China's rise. In fact, even before Xi arrived in California, the announcement of the meeting seemed to have calmed the confrontational dynamic in bilateral relations.

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