Home World California Summit Gives Momentum for Bilateral Ties: A Turning Point in China-US Relations

California Summit Gives Momentum for Bilateral Ties: A Turning Point in China-US Relations

China-US Relations

The year 2023 witnessed a rollercoaster of controversies and diplomatic tensions between China and the United States. However, as the year draws to a close, a significant event has emerged as a potential turning point in the bilateral relationship—the summit held on November 15 between the two heads of state in California. The summit, a remarkable achievement in itself, occurred against a backdrop of heightened tensions, beginning with the widely publicized “balloon incident” in February. This incident involved the US military shooting down a Chinese civilian airship that had drifted into US airspace. Despite initial distrust, subsequent investigations by the Pentagon in June revealed that the balloon did not engage in intelligence collection while flying over the United States.

In the lead-up to the California summit, the Biden administration further escalated tensions by imposing new restrictions on the export of advanced computing semiconductors, intensifying the ongoing chip war. Additionally, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led a bipartisan Senate delegation to China in June—the first such visit by US lawmakers since 2019. This was followed by visits from top officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, paving the way for the much-anticipated summit.

In September, Chinese Vice President Han Zheng visited the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly, engaging in bilateral discussions with the US. Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s subsequent trip marked the first time in seven years that a top Chinese diplomat visited Washington. These visits set the stage for the launch of dialogue mechanisms, including the Economic and Financial Working Groups, addressing Asia-Pacific affairs, maritime affairs, arms control and non-proliferation, and foreign policies.

Following the presidential summit, the two nations appear to be on the cusp of deciding how to navigate potential flashpoints and solidify the momentum toward stabilizing China-US relations. The summit’s importance is highlighted by the launch of various dialogue mechanisms and consultations, showcasing a commitment to constructive engagement. Expectations for sustained stability in relations are running high among China watchers in both countries. Wang Jisi, head of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, believes that the summit sets the tone for stable relations in the near future as preparations are made for next year’s official bilateral interactions.

Jan Berris, vice president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, emphasized the need for the US and China to forge a “strong, stable, and mutually respectful” relationship. Berris, who played a role in the historic Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1972, countered the perception that the engagement has solely benefited China, stressing the mutual benefits accrued by both nations. Top envoys from both countries have hailed the summit as the “best” of the seven meetings between President Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, describing it as a “milestone” in bilateral relations. Xie Feng, Beijing’s top envoy in Washington, emphasized the urgency of following through on the summit’s consensus, highlighting the importance of actions matching words to prevent setbacks in the relationship.

Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador to China, expressed hope that the common agreements reached at the summit would be implemented, citing ongoing efforts on issues such as fentanyl, military-to-military communications, and artificial intelligence.

Despite acknowledging China as a “systemic rival,” Burns emphasized the complexity of the relationship, stating that the US is both competing and engaging with China. Other experts, such as Klaus Larres, professor of international affairs at the University of North Carolina, believe that the agreements reached at the summit were done in a “serious, well-meaning, and honest” manner. Larres stressed the need for swift implementation of agreements to avoid mutual suspicions, emphasizing better communication, political transparency, travel diplomacy, and constructive dialogues at all levels as crucial elements for maintaining the positive trend in stabilizing relations.

As the international community watches closely, the California summit appears to have injected much-needed momentum into China-US relations, offering hope for a more stable and cooperative future between the two nations. The next steps will be crucial in determining whether this momentum can be sustained and built upon for the mutual benefit of both countries and the broader global community.