U.S. President Joe Biden scored a long-heralded face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and agreed on some steps that could help defuse tensions between the two geopolitical rivals, but only a handful of officials and experts believe the bilateral relationship's trajectory will change dramatically.
In the hope of easing the friction, Biden sat down with Xi at a location near San Francisco on Wednesday and discussed almost all of the issues both sides could think of for about four hours. Afterward, Biden described the talks as "some of the most constructive and productive discussions" he has ever had with the Chinese leader.
Their agreements were more concrete than those reached when they last met in Indonesia a year ago, which also took place on the sidelines of an annual multilateral economic conference.
Among them is the decision to resume high-level military-to-military communication channels, which Biden praised as "real progress" toward reducing the risk of a misunderstanding tipping into a conflict, as Chinese fighter jets and vessels have increasingly been carrying out dangerous maneuvers around Taiwan and other parts of Asia.
Yet despite the outcome, Yun Sun, a senior fellow and director of the China program at the Stimson Center think tank, said she and many other observers do not expect a long-term, strategic change of policy from either Washington or Beijing.
"The fundamentals of the relationship have not changed. One top leader summit does not change the fact that the United States and China are still engaged in profound competition," Yun said.
But when it comes to the bigger picture, officials involved in organizing the Biden-Xi meeting, foreign policy analysts and diplomats from other countries have indicated they believe that the president's discussions will contribute to conflict prevention -- at least in the short term.
For Indo-Pacific countries such as Japan and South Korea, which do not want to see a spike in tensions between the two major powers, Yun said that the summit will have been "welcomed."
In parallel with the meeting being Xi's first visit to the United States in over six years, there have been signs that China's diplomatic activities have become more conciliatory toward U.S. allies and partners.
Xi hosted Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this month in Beijing, marking a significant turnaround in bilateral ties, which were at their lowest point in decades due to disputes over issues ranging from trade and security to the detention of Australian citizens in China.
Albanese's trip to China was the first by an Australian prime minister since 2016.
Meanwhile, a meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea could be held later this month with the aim of setting the stage for a trilateral summit, according to diplomatic sources. Formerly held almost on an annual basis, a three-way summit between the countries has not taken place since 2019.
Miles Yu, a senior fellow and director of the China Center at the Hudson Institute, said that one year ago, Beijing believed it was in a stronger position to resist Washington's calls for cooperation.
But Yu thinks that this is no longer the case, as its economy is in a slump and the United States has continued to strengthen its ties with many countries in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
Amid difficulties at home, such as soaring youth unemployment, Yu said that Xi's biggest goal during his U.S. visit was to get the "optics" right and project the image that China, or the Chinese leader, is respected by the United States.
He also pointed out that Beijing has traditionally wanted to avoid talking about specific transactional issues and prioritizes "principles."
As Xi sat opposite Biden at a long table, he underscored that "respect" holds the key.
He said that while it is an objective fact that China and the United States are different in many respects, "as long as they respect each other, coexist in peace and pursue win-win cooperation, they will be fully capable of rising above differences and find the right way."
In contrast with the Chinese economy, U.S. growth has been very robust. Furthermore, Washington's additional export controls rolled out earlier this year on advanced semiconductors and high-tech products against China, imposed due to national security concerns, are said to have been effective.
Compared with the United States, China is more dependent on the outside world for technology and capital investment.
"China is facing some real challenges," a senior Biden administration official said.
The official added that he thinks "one of the reasons that President Xi is here is to send a message that China is still a good place to invest" to American business leaders, who gathered in the U.S. West Coast city for events connected to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.