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Building the Floor China-USA Summit


The summit meeting this week between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco is unlikely to resolve the significant differences that exist between the world’s two largest powers. However, it holds the promise of providing much-needed relief to the world by stabilizing a relationship that has recently been in a downward spiral, causing growing concern.



  • Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Important International Institutions, agencies and fora – their Structure, Mandate.

Mains Question:

The U.S. and China have realised that building a floor when ties between major powers are at the risk of free fall, is the first step. Discuss whether the outcomes of the US-China summit on the sidelines of APEC can help build stability in their bilateral ties. (15 marks, 250 words).

Outcomes of the Meeting:

  • Taking place on the sidelines of APEC, the summit resulted in two notable outcomes.
  • Firstly, there were concrete agreements, such as restarting direct military-to-military dialogue and addressing the risks and safety concerns related to artificial intelligence.
  • Secondly, both sides characterized the summit as establishing a foundation for the relationship, aiming to build on the goal set during their last meeting in Bali in 2022. The Bali consensus, unfortunately, was disrupted by the “spy balloon” incident.

Challenges in Maintaining the Stability of US-China relations:

  • This time, there is cautious optimism that the effort to stabilize the relationship is founded on more stable ground. However, the duration of this stability remains uncertain, especially with two potentially disruptive political events on the horizon.
  • In January of the following year, Taiwan is scheduled for elections, and the outcomes could escalate tensions across the strait. Regarding Taiwan, both China and the U.S. reiterated their positions, with China warning against interference, while the U.S. expressed opposition to any changes in the status quo.
  • Additionally, the U.S. will enter election mode next year in preparation for the November 2024 polls, and political campaigning typically brings heightened rhetoric on China.

Extended Concerns:

  • A more extended concern, underscoring the limitations of this modest stabilization, revolves around a fundamental disagreement in their outlook on the future of their relationship. According to Mr. Xi, the primary question is whether they are “adversaries or partners.”
  • He criticized the U.S. for framing the relationship as inherently competitive, warning that such a perspective could lead to “misinformed policy making, misguided actions, and unwanted results.”
  • Mr. Xi urged the U.S. to avoid inconsistent stances, especially on issues like Taiwan and export controls. In contrast, Mr. Biden stressed that the U.S. and China are indeed in competition and highlighted the immediate challenge of managing it responsibly.

Lessons for India:

  • Despite these differences, both leaders seem to recognize the importance of high-level engagement and open communication channels in preventing competition from escalating into conflict.
  • This realization provides valuable lessons for the India-China relationship, particularly as the crisis along the Line of Actual Control enters its fourth winter. It underscores that engaging in dialogue is not a concession in itself.


As the U.S. and China have acknowledged, establishing a foundation when relations between major powers are at risk of free fall is the initial crucial step.

December 2023