Hail, President. Well Met

In small but important ways, Obama and Xi moved the needle on U.S.-China relations

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    In the discussions on economics, contentious issues like cyberattacks came up, and each side stood its ground, but even here there was a search for opportunities for increased cooperation. Obama pointed out to Xi that given China's vast resources of shale and America's leading-edge extraction technology, there was an opportunity for economic cooperation that would benefit both. Xi had his own list of such opportunities, like Chinese investment to fund U.S. infrastructure projects.

    Areas of tension were discussed, including China's relations with Japan, on which the Chinese were impassioned. But the atmosphere was somewhat different this time. In the past, Beijing has argued that the Obama Administration's "pivot" to Asia looked to it like a strategy to contain China. At this meeting, Donilon said, "the Chinese leaders made clear that they understood and appreciated America's historic role in Asia in providing stability."

    This is mostly rhetoric and atmospherics. "The true test of this summit will be in two or three or five years," Donilon acknowledged, "when this background goodwill has to get translated into specific actions on both sides." Clearly both sides will have to follow up in the years ahead. But it is a significant achievement to create goodwill and trust between two countries that are so different in so many dimensions and could easily become adversaries. When historians write about China's renaissance and America's role in ensuring its peaceful rise, they highlight the meetings between Richard Nixon and Zhou Enlai in 1972 and between Jimmy Carter and Deng in 1979. If things go well, perhaps they will add to that list this meeting between Obama and Xi in the California desert.

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