Would a Xi-Trump meeting lead to thaw in China-US tensions?
Photo: xuehua.us
If everything goes well, Chinese and US leaders will meet on the sidelines of the Argentina G20 summit on November 29. The US President Donald Trump previously disclosed he will have dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A month and a half since the US released the news, the expected Xi-Trump meeting has come under worldwide spotlight, stealing the thunder of even the G20 summit itself.

As a full-blown trade war continues to drag down China-US relations and global economic prospects, the meeting has definitely brought some optimism, with expectations that the head-of-state diplomacy could remove current uncertainties.

People have reason to be optimistic. Ten years ago, when the financial crisis of 2008 hit, the first meeting of the Group of Twenty, spearheaded by the then US president Bush, was held in Washington to work out strategies to weather the effect of the crisis. And the event has since then become a major mechanism for global economic governance.

The two big powers held responsible for global stability have also become headstream of global risks. From the trade tensions starting in April to the full-blown trade war in July, and the speech of Vice President Mike Pence in October, the bilateral relations have been on a downward slope. Besides, there are disputes over the South China Sea and Taiwan issue and the US is threatening to ban Chinese students.

The previous four rounds of trade negotiations all proved to be futile for either “those working on behalf of Mr. President have no idea about his true bottom line,” or “officials of lower ranking could hardly break the ice.” It seems only a dialogue between the two leaders can bring the relationship back to the pre-trade war level.

However, although the China-US relations have been deteriorating, the two parties’ enthusiasm to engage in dialogues never recedes, so the confrontation remains manageable. According to Chinese official information, despite the unsteady situation, talks between the two parties at various levels have been maintained.

Especially the talk between the two leaders over phone on November 1 provided strategic direction and since then, the two sides’ economic negotiation teams have been in contact to nail down the G20 meeting. The formerly suspended second US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue finally took place, paving the way for the meeting at the military level.

It’s easier to come back to the negotiating table than to start from scratch, because we will know each other’s bottom line and issues that can lead to an impasse. As Trump once mentioned, we’ve had quite good talks and now we’re closer to action.

China and the US have reached consensus on reducing trade deficit and investment limitations, and now the focal point is to what level and at what speed the work could be done. China has announced to increase imports of US farm produce and energy, with all the other signs proving the main trend is for the country to further open-up to foreign investment.

China has devoted greater efforts to protect the US technology and intellectual property rights these years. The difference is that for some technological transfers, the Chinese side believes it’s voluntary market transaction, while the US side insists it’s being forced. Arguments of each side just fall on the deaf ear of the other side.

The US demands China to give up on subsidies for Made in China 2025 strategy, but this is the part China could hardly make a concession. The US Department of Commerce released a notice about what’s known to be the sternest technology export control in history. Covering 14 frontier technology categories, China is believed to be the top target of the measures. Actions like this would not help with decreasing trade deficit or transformation of technological achievements, considering China is becoming the biggest market worldwide.

Right before the expected the G20 meeting, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that if there was no agreement reached, another $267 billion of Chinese products would be taxed. The comments indicate the US could not predict China’s response to all the demands.

Generally, we could expect the Xi-Trump meeting to reach some framework agreements, helping reset the tone of China-US relations, relieving the ongoing tensions. However, it will still take time and efforts for the bilateral relationship to have a truly soft landing.

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