Two days ago, China and the US announced that Xi Jingping will meet with Obama on June 8 and 9 at the Annenberg estate Sunnylands in California. By diplomatic protocol, this is very hastily arranged and clearly concerns matters that can only be discussed face-to-face and, in some respect, one-on-one. The choice of the private estate (famously known as the Camp David of the west coast) signifies that the two countries’ relations have risen in level of importance, if not geniality. Typically, this sort of summit is arranged so that the two leaders will share breakfast, lunch and dinner together and take off their ties. It will test their chemistry and compatibility in style and other qualities such as temperament, fortitude and, if all goes well, their respective philosophies.
Astute observers know that this will likely be an historic meeting. Judging from recent events, it is likely that Xi Jingping needs to inform Obama about some important matters or events that is about to take place. It reminds me of Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the US in January 1979 to inform Jimmy Carter of China’s decision to embark upon the Reform and Opening Up Policy and, equally importantly, that China planned to go to war against Vietnam later that year (to mob up fragrant violation of its borders and persecution of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam).
There are two urgent matters that China needs to take action that would require US coordination. The first, I believe, is that China will probably have to rough up the Phillippines very soon (the Filipinos recently sprayed a Taiwanese fishing boat with machine gun fire and killed a Chinese fisherman — one of a never-ending series of provacation and taunting antics encouraged by Japanese military support). The second is obviously about the rise of militarism in Japan, and what to do about her hidden arsenal of WMD.
On the surface, Xi and Obama would try to portary an elevation of the two countries’ friendship and cooperation. That would be China’s genuine proposal — that the two strongest countries will act like two pillars to hoist up an arch for a polycentric world, and usher in an era of world development and cooperation instead of confrontation and vying for hegemony. Unfortunately, Obama’s foreign policy performance so far has been one of “the great salesman who delivers the words but not the matching goods”. Beginning in the Middle East, Russia and throughout Asia, Obama would say one thing and almost immediately did the opposite. That has produced general mistrust, which is the worst thing a statesman can do in the realm of diplomacy. Even if Obama were to lift his game this time, the Chinese will not likely place too much reliance on it.
In any case, this can be historic.