Presidential Meeting or Not——This is the Question——Jiemian Yang

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Presidential Meeting or Not——This is the Question

Jiemian Yang


Recently some Chinese scholars are heatedly debating on how China should respond to American's overture to hold a presidential meeting on the sideline of the G-20 Rome summit by the end of coming October. Simply put, there are three groups of opinions as follows:


The Yes-Group holds that the down-spiraling China-US relations calls urgently for presidential guidance and intervention. Given the mounting thorny questions and issues between the two countries, the two Presidents should use their political wills and high authorities to put this bilateral relationship back to the right track. Moreover, the preparation would need more senior levels of contacts and dialogues as well as more constructive actions on such issues as climate change, economic cooperation and financial coordination. The summit-driven deliverables could improve the relations if not substantially at least atmospherically. It is also related to the US strategic priorities. The Biden administration has to work with its allies and partners first for the sake of winning strategic advantages. Once these done, the Biden administration could have more initiatives to deal with China. After all, the in-person meeting would be extremely important for the mutual communication and benefits for difference control and crisis management.


The Maybe-Group is very hesitant for the following three reasons. Number One, neither country is domestically ready to support a significant turn away from strategic competition and political confrontation to constructive relations. More broadly speaking, China-US relations is too complicated and deep-rooted to be brought back to the right track by any talks, even if presidential talks. Number Two, the sideline meeting is not a proper occasion to have in-depth discussions on their strategic believes and ways to effectively narrow their differences. At the most, Presidents Xi and Biden could make a deal only as President Biden and Putin did in Geneva in the past mid-June. Number Three, presently the two countries have very few topics of common interests but many confronting issues. On the one hand, the two countries have already overused such topics of climate change and economic cooperation. On the other hand, the negative list is being added on and on by each passing month including the sanctions and counter-sanctions.


The No-Group sees far more negative side than the positive side to hold the proposed presidential meeting. Its arguments can be summed up by three key phrases: unilateral agendas, arrogant attitudes and selective topics. In terms of unilateral agendas, while the Biden administration continues to deem China as the major strategic competitor and rivalry, it first organized the NATO and Quad meetings and is now trying to make the Biden-Xi meeting to serve its overall strategy and domestic politics. Regarding arrogant attitudes, the Biden administration does not want to treat China as an equal and continues to name and shame China. The Biden administration insists on dealing with China from the so-called position of strength and rejects the diplomatic principle of take and give. In the respect of selective topics, the Biden administration is only interested in discussing its preferred issues and questions whereas paying no attention to China's grave concerns. Therefore, the No-Group emphasizes the summits' diminishing effects and suggests to hold it when conditions are truly ready.


The above-mentioned three groups reflect a broad spectrum about China's scholars debates on the proposed presidential meeting. In actual interaction between China and the United States, the proposed presidential meeting would be even more complicated. Therefore, we need both holistic and dialectic approach to manage this most important bilateral relations in the present world.

(August 4, 2021)

2021年8月5日 08:02