China, the closest competitor today to the United States’ pre-eminence as the world’s military, technological and economic power, had been perceived as aiming to take that competition to confrontation. Mercifully, there was scope at least for the leaders of the two superpowers to talk to each other for over four hours at a summit in a California mansion.
The world may not be breathing much easier as the ground covered in the highly anticipated meeting between Presidents Joe Biden of the US and Xi Jinping of China was restricted to a degree of understanding on keeping old communication lines between the militaries of both nations open — they were closed in the wake of the visit of the then House speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan last year — and on curbing production of chemical precursors to the deadly opioid drug fentanyl that has enslaved or killed thousands of Americans.
What triggered Mr Biden to hark back to Mr Xi’s job description as China’s “dictator” immediately after meeting him and drawing from him, according to reports, a promise to dial down the threat of annexation of Taiwan will remain a mystery. Maybe, it has something to do with China needing the US more now as it seeks investments and high technology microchips at a time when its economy is beset by real estate bankruptcies and loss of consumer confidence.
Mr Biden may have made a grand gesture in welcoming Mr Xi at the entrance to the Filoli mansion, but there were only smidgens of the old warmth between two leaders who have been meeting each other over the course of 15 years.
It was Mr Xi’s charm offensive in wooing America’s CEOs that inspires a bit of hope that the days of competitive confrontations may have been put on hold, at least while China recuperates. Any major shift in power dynamics between the two powers may be just an illusion. What engenders some optimism is that Mr Xi may have said that Mr Biden could pick up the phone at any time to talk to him if there was a problem.