The informal meetings at the aptly named Rancho Mirage in California between United States President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping have ended without any major breakthroughs but with the two pledging to build ‘a new model’ of relations. This summit has come in the wake of heightened tensions, as in the preceding weeks the US accused the Chinese government of massive cyber-hacking against government, military and commercial targets while China, at the Shangri-La Dialogue, accused the US of wanting to ‘contain’ China through its ‘pivot’ toward Asia. The US also chose to reopen the events in Tiananmen Square by demanding China account for those killed, detained, or missing, while China declared that it would commence regular naval patrols within the US’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, as the US has done for many years within China’s. So the summit, ostensibly an opportunity for Obama and Xi to get to know each other and inject warmth into the relations, could not be expected to build concord on many issues though it has covered a wide range, from North Korea to cyber-spying to territorial disputes with Japan and Taiwan, to global climate change. Yet, despite the contentious issues, both presidents have urged cooperation and, in the words of Li, a new path ‘different from the inevitable confrontation and conflict between the major countries of the past.’
Though the two leaders have agreed that North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons programme, it remains to be seen if they can truly reinvigorate US-China relations. There are not only serious irritants in the relationship, such as the US allegations of currency manipulation that has led to a record $315 billion trade imbalance last year, but other, more substantial factors at play as well that can lead to confrontation. So the US confronts a China that has influence over economies throughout the world, and the political leverage to pursue its own agenda on the global stage, even as it builds up its military and asserts itself regionally. The US response so far, though with a military component, wisely focuses on its long-term economic interest and on deepening engagement with China. There is, thus, much for India to learn about how to handle the dragon from the US’s engagement with it.