Sunnylands Summit: Historic Meeting between Obama and Xi
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 10, 2013
Summary: Barack Obama and Xi Jinping held a summit at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California. They spoke, face to face, for over eight hours. The first day's working dinner continued late into the evening, concluding at 10:45. Such close interaction between the two nations' officials is unprecedented. The Sunnylands estate summit will not be the last. As the summit concluded, Xi Jinping invited President Obama to visit Beijing. The two would hold a similar, informal summit. There were few substantive results this time. But the importance of the summit for Sino-US relations should be clear.
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Barack Obama and Xi Jinping held a summit at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California. They spoke, face to face, for over eight hours. The first day's working dinner continued late into the evening, concluding at 10:45. Such close interaction between the two nations' officials is unprecedented.
The White House announced this informal summit less than three weeks ago. Obama and Xi were originally expected to meet at APEC and the G20 summit three months from now. But Washington concluded that Xi Jinping had already consolidated his power. Therefore there was no need to "wait and see." Washington concluded that it was better to meet sooner than later. Otherwise, once Beijing's diplomatic strategy was set, it would be too late. Beijing also felt that Xi Jinping's top priority upon taking office should be to consolidate U.S. policy. No state banquet. No 21 gun salute. The important thing was a candid face to face discussion with Obama himself. Therefore following Xi's scheduled visit to the Caribbean, he went from Washington's backyard to its front yard.
Beijing and Washington have never before held such an informal summit. This was not because Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao has any particular attachment to diplomatic protocol. This was because in the past Beijing leaders' diplomatic speeches were subject to the approval of the Politburo. Its leaders did not have the self-confidence and authority to conduct direct talks with foreign heads of state. But Xi Jinping's status is different. He possesses the necessary eloquence to set aside the script and communicate face to face with foreign heads of state.
US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Beijing State Councilor Yang Jiechi issued a summary of the proceedings. Obama and Xi agreed on very few issues, and disagreed on many. The two sides reached a consensus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They agreed not to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power. But they differed on Internet hacker attacks, sovereignty in the South China Sea, RMB exchange rates, and arms sales to Taipei.
Having differences is normal. For the two sides to see things in exactly the same way would be abnormal. After all, Mainland China and the US have very different cultures. More importantly, one is the dominant power. The other is an emerging power. The two sides are well aware of their differences. The two leaders' clash symbolizes the significance of this summit.
Throughout history, large-scale wars have taken place when an emerging power challenges a dominant hegemonic power. Greek historian Thucydides noted how when Sparta attempted to prevent the rise of Athens, it precipitated 30 years of war. Harvard professor Graham Allison termed this the "Thucydides Trap." He felt this applied to Germany just before the war in Europe. He thinks it may apply to today's Chinese mainland as well.
The United States wants to remain the primary force in Asia. It wants to "maintain long-term stability in Asia." But Mainland China wants to reassert its historical status as the superpower in Asia. As Mainland China sees it, even if the United States does not leave Asia, it should at least stand to one side. Therefore it advocates the development of a "new relationship among the major powers." The two sides' thinking on regional leadership differ. Friction, therefore, is guaranteed. If the two governments want peaceful coexistence, the summit is a good starting point.
Some U.S. officials have concluded that this "New Power Relation" implies that Washington should not interfere with Mainland China's "core interests." These "core interests" are national interests about which Mainland China cannot compromise. They include Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan. During the summit, Xi Jinping said he hoped Obama understands and respects Mainland China's "core interests." In other words, Beijing wants to define its "sphere of influence." The question is, will Washington acquiesce?
Obama spoke of "a new power relationship between the United States and China." This does not mean the United States accepts Mainland China's formulation. East Asia has become the global economic center. Therefore the U.S. is extremely reluctant to accept Mainland China's regional dominance. U.S. Navy and Air Force presence in the Asian Pacific region has increased 60%. This suggests that Washington's Asian rebalancing strategy remains in place, and that it is refusing to withdraw.
During the summit, Xi Jinping referred to the Taiwan issue. He reiterated Beijing's principles and stance on Taiwan. He stressed that this issue concerns the patriotic sentiments of 1.3 billion people. He urged the United States to abide by the three Sino-US joint communiques, to adhere to the "one China" policy, to take concrete action to support the peaceful development of cross-strait relations, and to cease its arms sales to Taipei.
This may sound like an old tune. But the fact that it was raised at all, means it warrants close attention. The Taiwan issue is not longer what it was during past Washington-Beijing tensions, If Washington and Beijing establish a new power relationship, Washington-Taipei relations are bound to be affected. Cross-strait relations are bound to be affected as well. Responsible ministries in our government must understand Obama's response, and formulate follow-up responses.
The Sunnylands estate summit will not be the last. As the summit concluded, Xi Jinping invited President Obama to visit Beijing. The two would hold a similar, informal summit. There were few substantive results this time. But the importance of the summit for Sino-US relations should be clear.
縱觀歷史，世界上的大規模戰爭總發生在一個新興國家挑戰既有霸權的時候。希臘歷史學家修昔底德觀察到，斯巴達為阻止雅典的崛起，釀成卅年的戰爭；哈佛大學教授格雷厄姆‧阿利森（Graham Allison）稱之為「修昔底德陷阱」（Thucydides’s trap），認為這適用於歐戰前的德國，也可能適用今天的中國大陸。