Tue. Feb 20th, 2024

It was 1985 and a fresh-faced Xi Jinping’s first journey to the U.S. (or wherever exterior of China, so it’s believed.) Carrying a brown jacket over grey pullover, necktie tidily knotted, the then 31-year-old princeling flashes a carefree grin for the digicam in entrance of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a pose replicated by numerous beguiled vacationers each earlier than and since.

Younger president Xi Jinping,
then CPC get together Chief of Zhengding Nation,
in San Francisco, 1985.
Chinese language president Xi will likely be assembly for the APEC discussion board and assembly Biden in San Francisco subsequent week. pic.twitter.com/xwEaHO0pJn

— China in Photos (@tongbingxue) November 10, 2023

Again then, Xi was a junior Chinese language official main a delegation to the U.S. to review fashionable agriculture methods. Xi visited the U.S. 4 extra instances earlier than he assumed China’s management in late 2012, and has returned 4 instances since, most not too long ago sharing chocolate cake with former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2017. At that assembly, Trump hailed the “nice chemistry” between the leaders and foresaw “a lot of very probably unhealthy issues will likely be going away.”

As predictions go, it wasn’t certainly one of Trump’s finest, and relations between the world’s high two economies have spiraled within the six years since. Altering that trajectory will likely be high of the agenda when Xi returns to San Francisco on Tuesday for an Asia-Pacific Financial Cooperation (APEC) summit, with a bilateral assembly with President Joe Biden set for Wednesday.

“The 2 heads-of-state could have in-depth communication on strategic, common and directional points regarding China-U.S. relations, in addition to main points regarding world peace and improvement,” Chinese language overseas ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning instructed a daily briefing on Monday.

Learn Extra: U.S. Normal’s Prediction of Conflict With China ‘in 2025’ Dangers Turning Worst Fears Into Actuality

The stakes are excessive for each side. The reasonable thaw achieved following a summit between Xi and Biden in Bali final November returned to deep freeze by February when the U.S. shot down an alleged Chinese language spy balloon. Immediately, Washington has blocked the sale of high-tech parts to China, ramped up arms gross sales to Taiwan, and has backed the Philippines over recent skirmishes with the Folks Liberation Military (PLA) within the South China Sea.

In the meantime, China’s economic system is mired in a extreme downturn, with youth unemployment at 46.5%, by some estimates, whereas the world’s high buying and selling nation once more veered into deflation in October. One measure of overseas direct funding into China fell unfavourable within the third quarter of 2023 for the primary time on document.

In opposition to this backdrop, one can forgive Xi if he struggles to summon the identical blithe cheer seen in that nearly four-decade-old picture. He desperately wants to scale back stress on China’s ailing economic system and can search assurances over the standing of Taiwan, the self-governing island of 23 million that Beijing claims as its personal. Biden, in flip, may do with an enormous overseas coverage win with the U.S. presidential election lower than a yr away. He will likely be eager for Chinese language assist to resolve the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel in addition to reestablishing de-escalation mechanisms between each side’ armed forces.

Learn Extra: How China May Play a Key Function within the Israel-Hamas Conflict—and Why It’s Not

Following the go to of then-Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022, military-to-military communications between the superpowers have largely ceased, with a sequence of latest near-misses between the nations’ vessels and plane. Biden “is decided to see the reestablishment of military-to-military ties,” his nationwide safety adviser, Jake Sullivan, instructed CBS on Sunday, saying it was “within the U.S. nationwide safety curiosity.”

Nevertheless, Chinese language analysts say that Washington will not be strolling the speak. Zhou Bo, a retired PLA senior colonel and senior fellow on the Heart for Worldwide Safety and Technique at Tsinghua College, factors out that no senior U.S. navy official attended final month’s Xiangshan Discussion board on regional safety in Beijing. “I imagine the U.S. missed an excellent alternative as a result of the Chinese language facet prolonged invites,” he tells TIME.

And whereas the U.S. will reemphasize it seeks no change to the established order in Taiwan, August’s announcement of $500 million of latest weapons gross sales, following Congress’s passing in Might of a historic commerce take care of Taiwan, makes this a tricky promote in Beijing. Concern about Taiwan is heightened because the island prepares to carry presidential elections in January, with polls indicating the Beijing-skeptic Democratic Progressive Social gathering is on target for an unprecedented third straight time period.

Learn Extra: Each Cautious of Conflict, Taiwan’s Voters Eye China and China Eyes Taiwan’s Voters

The query is what each side are prepared to placed on the negotiating desk. Early studies are {that a} deal to curb the circulation of lethal fentanyl from China to the U.S. is near being agreed. Beijing has additionally demanded rollbacks in tariffs and sanctions however might need to accept assurances the U.S. won’t inflict new ones as a substitute. 

Most pressingly, Biden will need Xi to leverage his affect in Tehran—China is the highest purchaser of Iranian oil—to make sure its proxies don’t increase the Israel-Hamas struggle. Xi has already telegraphed his peace-building ambitions by negotiating a truce between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and any progress on peace in Ukraine and Israel—whereas admittedly a quixotic proposition—can be an enormous win for each side. What concessions Washington is prepared to pony up is the massive query.

“Beijing is attempting to place itself as a safety participant globally,” says Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow on the Freeman Spogli Institute for Worldwide Research at Stanford College and writer of Upstart: How China Grew to become a Nice Energy. “Xi Jinping will need to transfer past simply discussing regional points to make some stronger statements about world points as nicely.”

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