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US-China Relations: The Danger of Strategic Misjudgment

Nov 07 , 2014

President Obama will head to Beijing in the coming days to attend the annual APEC summit on November 10 and 11. But perhaps the more important event on his agenda is the whole day meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 12. Compared to Obama’s first state visit to China in 2009, and the two leaders’ meeting in Sunnylands, California last year, both of which drew the world’s media focus, this meeting has not accumulated the same hype. The importance of this year’s summit has been diminished in the light of President Obama’s weakened domestic political leverage.

President Obama left Washington with the bad news that his Democratic Party had lost control of the U.S. Senate to the Republicans in the mid-term elections. With the result of the elections and the lower approval rating for his policies, it has become apparent that Mr. Obama is a lame duck president going into his final two years in office. Next year will bring the start of the 2016 presidential election cycle, and the current presidency will become even less of a focus. There is a sharp contrast between President Obama and his Chinese contemporary when it comes to domestic politics. Mr. Xi continues to accumulate more power and influence within China as he uses his anti-corruption campaign as a tool to further strengthen his power base. Additionally, Mr. Xi is conducting major reforms with the ambitious plan to further change China and his party.

For both President Obama and President Xi, the upcoming meeting on November 12 will be mainly focused on the immediate future, with the hopes of creating a mechanism to set the tone for smoother relations between the U.S. and China while Obama finishes his term in office.

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