Avoiding accidental war is priority
What Beijing wants from this meeting and what it realistically expects to achieve are two different things.
Both the Chinese and US governments are under no illusion as to how deep the tensions are between the world’s superpowers and won’t be banking on some magic breakthrough to return relations to the way they were more than a decade ago.
For example, while Washington accuses China of coercive trade practices, Xi Jinping’s administration would point to significant US restrictions on China’s emerging technology sector.
Yet it would be a monumental surprise to most observers if either of these hurdles were removed following this meeting.
The best that can be hoped for is already pretty dark.
If Xi and Biden can agree on a series of measures designed to prevent a major accidental conflict between their countries that would be seen as a step forward.
Neither side wants a miscalculation regarding the other’s behaviour to lead to war. The US is speaking about “guardrails” being put in place. This could involve clear communication channels and even a set of rules or perhaps red lines not to be crossed.
Taiwan is the obvious potential flashpoint but not the only one. The war in Ukraine and North Korea’s missile tests have also ramped up Beijing-Washington tensions.
All of these could well be discussed.
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Watch: The moment Xi and Biden shook hands for the world’s cameras
In his own opening remarks just now, US President Joe Biden spoke of the importance of avoiding “conflict” between the US and China.
He agreed with his opposite number Xi Jinping that there was “little substitute” for face-to-face talks.
Biden said he was “committed to keeping the line of communications between us open” so that the two countries could “work together on urgent global issues” including climate change and insecurity.
The world “expects” the two nations to work in partnership, Biden adde