U.S. president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping will meet this week, in a state visit by the American president to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the eve of the APEC Summit. Counting side discussions at multilateral conferences, this will be the fourth meeting between the two presidents—a remarkable, and even laudable, track record of top leaders interacting with each other.
Opening lines of communications, having an opportunity to exchange views…these, in the main, are not bad things. The past various meetings have allowed both sides to reiterate points of concern. For the United States, this has meant emphasizing the importance of limiting nuclear proliferation (especially on the Korean peninsula and Iran), military-to-military relations and climate change. For the PRC, it has meant pushing for a “new model of great-power relations” in which the two sides express respect for each other’s “core interests.”
What is problematic is when neither side has much of an agenda. President Obama will be in Beijing for the annual meeting of APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) leaders. Absent this standing commitment of all U.S. presidents, it’s not clear that President Obama has much reason to be in Beijing. As long as he’s there, however, the president is arguably obliged to have a bilateral meeting with Xi. (That it is a “state visit” is probably at the insistence of the Chinese).
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