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Xi-Obama meeting sets course for bilateral ties

As the US hosts the fourth Nuclear Security Summit on Thursday and Friday, the meeting between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines has become one of the most watched events by the US media. This is Obama’s only bilateral meeting during the summit. The arrangement of the meeting and the huge attention it has received reflect the real importance of China for the US elite.

Some US Republicans and media outlets have urged Obama to raise human rights and the South China Sea issues during the 90-minute talks with Xi. It seems that the US president always has to take some time out of the meeting to repeat old issues so as to cater to the needs of the media.

For Chinese people, the frequently held Xi-Obama meetings are of considerable significance as the two powers have shown their willingness to seek solutions through communication.

The posture will affect people’s perception of difficult issues between the two countries and raise the prospects of world peace and stability. In fact, the Asia-Pacific strategic landscape would be much different without the frequent communication between Xi and Obama. Meetings between the top leaders of China and the US have become a key mechanism to ease the tensions in the region.

Whether Obama will raise human rights issue amounts to little compared with the significance of his talks with Xi. Although the US has not been vocal in responding to China-proposed new type of major power relationship, it is acting in a way that is different from the Cold War era.

The close economic ties between China and the US have led to the establishment of a relationship that differs from previous relationships between powers. Both countries are aware of exercising restraint and have somewhat signaled their unwillingness to move toward strategic confrontation.

Previous concerns that the China-US relationship was reaching a tipping point have also eased. The seemingly serious issue of the South China Sea assumes lesser significance in the context of the Sino-US relationship and intensive communication mechanisms. Driven by short-sightedness and vested interests, US media doesn’t favor a comprehensive view of the Sino-US relationship. Yet in China, the public opinion is dominated by rational thinking on the critical relationship. The history may prove that China plays a more important role in guiding its relationship with the US out of the Thucydides Trap.

Apart from the Washington meeting, Xi and Obama may meet again at the G20 summit in September in Hangzhou, China. Their meetings are unlikely to solve every specific issue in  the bilateral cooperation, but more dialogue between the two will be reassuring to the whole world.

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