US-China relations: Expect no breakthrough when Xi and Biden meet, analysts say

But Wang warned that „the road to the San Francisco summit will not be smooth” and that the two countries „cannot rely on autonomous flight,” according to a statement from China’s foreign ministry.

Diplomatic observers have often kept expectations low in terms of what the leaders’ first face-to-face meeting in a year could actually achieve.

“I don’t expect a big improvement. I don’t expect a big landslide,” said Chong Jae Ian, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore.

He said he expected both sides to try to better understand each other’s positions while signaling a willingness for further dialogue.

„There may be some establishment of more stable mutual expectations, perhaps more dialogue to de-conflict and mitigate risk,” Chong said, adding that there is likely to be some emphasis on mutual respect and reciprocity.

’Different US and Chinese Intentions Will Reduce Xi-Biden Meeting Outcome’

Relations between the two world powers deteriorated rapidly last year, but both sides have worked in recent months to improve communications and increase engagement, with top US officials making trips to China.

Last week, an economic working group of officials from the two countries held their first meeting In a further attempt to manage tensions.

David Ares, resident professor of international politics at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, said a range of issues could be on the table when leaders meet.

Among other things, he expected them to call for the release of hostages, humanitarian relief for Gazans, and agree to undertake efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Indo-Pacific region. Areas like climate change.

For the Xi-Biden meeting, Ares expected Washington to seek Beijing’s help in pressuring Russia, North Korea and Iran, which challenge US interests. Beijing, meanwhile, can be expected to demand a rollback of US-imposed sanctions on China.

But their efforts, according to Arase, are likely to achieve „little success”.

He said the Xi-Biden meeting may not achieve any major results „but could reopen regular discussions and consultations to prevent a worrying deterioration and growing animosity in bilateral relations”.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (left) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) during talks in Washington last week. Photo: AFP

Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the topics Xi and Biden will discuss will depend on the time allocated to the summit.

If the leaders have more time, Wu expects a more detailed discussion on issues affecting bilateral relations. Otherwise, he said, they will „chart a general direction to manage the relationship, open lines of communication and not escalate the situation.”

When Xi and Biden last met — on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia last November — they spoke for three hours on topics ranging from Taiwan to North Korea.

Wu said including „flash points”. South China Sea And Taiwan can be touched but neither side has any expectation that these long-standing issues will be resolved.

„In particular, China’s position on the South China Sea is very different from that of the United States [that of other claimant states like] Philippines,” he said, calling it a „dead end issue.”

China claims almost the entire resource-rich waterway and its coast guard has engaged in several standoffs with ships from neighbors such as the Philippines in recent months.

Washington has backed Manila and reiterated its commitment to defend the Philippines in the event of an armed attack in the South China Sea.

Wu suggested that the two leaders would consider the summit as a channel to talk to each other while „trying to avoid the worst-case scenario of war”.

The meeting will help both the leaders domestically as well, he said. For Biden, the summit will signal his ability to engage with China. And for Xi, it would see China „treated as an equal” with the United States and a leader of the world.

Wu noted that while the summit would benefit both sides, the two countries have „very different values” — their views on the Ukraine war and their visions for the global order — which could limit the success of the talks.

With Republicans ready to seize on any sign of weakness as the US election approaches, the Biden administration may have little room for flexibility even when it comes to common global issues like the Israel-Gaza conflict, says NUS’s Chong.

Wang Huayao, founder of the Beijing-based think tank Center for China and Globalization, said the Xi-Biden summit would be „very significant” — especially for China’s neighbors.

Leaders in the region have long called for improved U.S.-China ties and expressed growing concerns about the superpower taking sides in the rivalry.

„Just a picture [the two leaders] The handshake will send a big signal to the outside world,” Wang said, calling the summit „long overdue”.

Wang said he hoped the meeting would work to stop the downward spiral of bilateral relations and promote people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

“This meeting will give good results to other regions. It meets the expectations of the world,” he said. „The world needs stability [when] The leaders of the two largest economies are meeting, which will stabilize the global economy and send good signals to the rest of the world.

Cooperation is the 'best choice’, the right path for China and the US, says People’s Daily

Ares, of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for China and US Studies, said the Xi-Biden meeting would send a message to the world that the US and China are working responsibly to manage their differences peacefully.

He said Southeast Asian countries – which find themselves wedged more and more between the US and China – would be reassuring but on the defensive.

„They know that Sino-US relations are fraught and that growing instability in Europe, the Middle East and Northeast Asia creates ripple effects that have a destabilizing effect in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Chong said regional countries will see the meeting as a desire for stability on the part of Beijing and Washington. But while some expect a return to the engagement of the 1990s and 2000s, he said that’s unlikely.

„Neither the US nor China wants to go back to that level, even if they want to prevent their competition from spiraling out of control,” he said. „Southeast Asia must learn to live with a contentious world of high power friction.”

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