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November , 2021


Leader-level engagement has always been an anchor of relations between the United States and China. The Nov. 15 virtual summit between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping made clear their shared desire to make sure the increasingly competitive relationship does not veer into disastrous conflict.

It’s a reassuring message. The two leaders see their efforts not as a favor to each other but as a responsibility to the world. U.S.-China cooperation is indeed necessary to deal with many mounting challenges, from ending the COVID-19 pandemic to a much-needed economic recovery and climate change issues.

In this issue of Digest, our contributors explore answers to a key question: Can the political will exhibited in the Xi-Biden virtual summit translate into concrete action for improving China-U.S. ties?

Myriad, seemingly insurmountable, disagreements over trade, technology, Taiwan and human rights stand in the way of breakthroughs, as do certain political realities and domestic pressures in the leaders’ own countries.

Ahead of this key summit, ranking Chinese and U.S. diplomats and trade negotiators interacted through a series of meetings, either face-to-face or via video link, and reached some points of consensus.


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  • Undoubtedly, China-U.S. strategic competition will continue to unfold in the next 10 to 20 years, and the unusually complex and inevitably fierce majorcountry game will determine the fate of humanity in the 21st century.

    Zhao Minghao

    Research Fellow Charhar Institute
  • Both leaders were thus bolstered by recent political successes, but both needed progress in foreign policy. The mere fact that the two leaders had this direct discussion is seen as stabilizing.

    David Shambaugh

    Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies and Director of the China Policy Program George Washington University
  • Their willingness to engage in extended, in-depth discussions is crucial to navigating the relationship through rough waters.

    Yi Fan

    A current affairs commentator based in Beijing
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