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Nov 22, 2023 / 22:47

Not surprised, not spectacular and no breakthrough

This US-China summit couldn't produce any major breakthrough for China-US relationship.

Their encounter on the sideline of this year's annual APEC Summit held in San Francisco lasted four hours and in an almost harmonious atmosphere. It was the second time US President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping met each other to talk about world politics and bilateral relations, the first time one year ago in Indonexia's Bali. The worldwide expectations of its outcome were high, but all predictions were easy to make: This US-China summit couldn't produce any major breakthrough for the relationships of these two largest economies of the present world. 

 US President Joe Biden (left) waves to reporters as Chinese President Xi Jinping looks on before their meeting in Woodside, California on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on Nov 15, 2023. Photo: AFP 

Anyway, they reached expected agreements to curb illicit fentanyl production and to reopen military ties, as well as recommitted to closely cooperate with each other in fighting against climate change. It was substantially modest and not spectacular because of having all been widely expected, thus no surprise for anyone.

But their San Francisco talk was of politically immense importance for both the US and China. It delivered clear proof that the US and China still possess the capability to control and manage their bilateral relationship despite continuing deteriorations and conflicts. One can take for sure that this relationship will neither be at the possibly highest level nor collapse. Its normal state is and remains unstable, vulnerable to recidivism, and very hardly foreseeable. Joe Biden's re-use of his well-known word and notion for characterizing Xi Jinping right after his encounter with Xi Jinping demonstrated clearly and misunderstandably that it isn't just now the right time to make true improvements in the US-China relationship. It is only the right time for them to engage themselves in direct bilateral talks and consultations and not the right time to make mutual concessions needed to improve their relationship.

But a little bit less confrontation and conflict are still very positive and encouraging for the US-China relations, for the sake of Apec, for the world economy and trade. But the results of the recent US-China summit in San Francisco were far from being enough to get this relationship "stabilized" as the US side offenly expected. The question wasn't whether the two really wanted to facilitate some major breakthrough or not because the bitter reality was that they couldn't make any of them at this moment in time. But both sides achieved their aims. Joe Biden got the US-China relations there where the China issues do not play any role more in the race of many candidates to conquer the White House in November 2024. Xi Jinping preserved his ultimate card for his game with the next US president. Therefore, there was no surprise, not spectacular, and no breakthrough in San Francisco, but the talk itself was very meaningful, even consequentially meaningful.


Disclaimer: The views expressed by Ambassador Tran Duc Mau are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Hanoi Times.