Barack Obama and Xi Jinping are meeting on a secluded estate in the California desert for a two-man summit. It’s the kind of thing that inspires terrible, juvenile, unfunny photoshopping and breathless, hagiographic coverage. But what can we expect from the meeting?
Pretty much nothing. Or maybe the salvation of a world on the brink of total war.
The meeting has been compared variously to Nixon meeting Mao, Kennedy meeting Khrushchev, and Reagan meeting Gorbachev. The relationship between China and the US today has been compared to Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece, Germany and Britain in the early 20th century, Russia and the US during the Cold War, and English pirates and the Spanish empire in the 16th century.
Analysts and pundits have been coming out with their advice all week, on how the approach the meeting, and use it as an opportunity to avoid the kinds of cataclysmic wars between Athens and Sparta, and Germany and Britain.
But we shouldn’t expect too much! The meeting’s super casual. Look! They don’t even have ties on.
According to the Guardian:
When Barack Obama sits down with the newly installed Xi Jinping at the Sunnylands country estate in California on Friday and Saturday, they will be aiming for a superpower retreat of an altogether different ambition. Though the shirt sleeves will be carefully rolled up, to suggest a relaxed affair, expectations are building on both sides for a historic meeting that attempts nothing short of carving out a new world order.
Beijing is more concerned with improving the working relationship than specific topics. “This meeting in itself is what China wanted to achieve,” said Shi.
Analysts warn against unrealistically high expectations of a two-day meeting. Linda Jakobson, director of the east Asia programme at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, said that while there seem to be attempts to centralise Chinese foreign policy decision-making, it remains highly complex, with many actors.
Officials said the first session was focused on the security issues that bedevil both leaders and one — North Korea’s nuclear threat — that the United States sees as a chance to foster greater cooperation with China. On Saturday, the presidents plan to delve into economic issues, a category that includes cybersecurity because of businesses’ concerns about actual and threatened theft of their commercial secrets and other intellectual property.
Is it a historic opportunity to forge a “new type of great power relationship” (the phrase adopted by Chinese propagandists)? Or is it just a casual meeting for the two leaders to get to know each other personally?
Both, essentially. The meeting is not important. But the relationship between the two countries is at crucial juncture, which means the sheer existence of the meeting has taken on all sorts of significance already. This will be a meeting in which nothing of note will be agreed upon or announced*. But decades from now, the pundits of the future will look back, and pick this as the moment where it all went right/wrong [delete as necessary].
*Obama’s ability to press Xi on hacking and cyber security, much hyped before the meeting, has been severely curtailed by this week’s revelations that the US government has been systematically surveilling citizens for years with the collaboration of major tech companies.
[Image credit: Netease]