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Summit to set sunny tone for times ahead

By  Chen Weihua (China Daily)

08:36, June 08, 2013

As President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama began their two-day summit in Sunnylands, California, on Friday, speculation was rife about its outcome, with some people even trying to hijack the agenda to serve their own interests.

The Chinese and the US governments, however, have said the meeting may not yield specific deliverables, because it focuses on building a personal relationship between Xi and Obama and setting the tone for bilateral ties. The meeting, though, is expected to lay the foundation for future deliverables.

The top leaders of the two countries have been committed to exploring a new type of major power relationship to prevent the ugly conflicts the past has seen between a rising power and an established power.

Most experts in China-US relations have welcomed the idea of holding the summit away from the official glare of Washington and without the rigid formalities and protocols. They say Sunnylands will provide the perfect backdrop for Xi and Obama to better know each other and discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues.

But some people want the two leaders to solve a host of thorny issues during their two-day meeting. Their concern that some of the issues, such as the territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, could push China and the US toward an unwanted conflict is understandable.

That is why it is important for the two leaders to build the kind of trust that could prevent this worst-case scenario from becoming a reality. Nevertheless, maritime territorial disputes, many of which have roots in history, may take years, if not generations, to resolve. The same is true for disputes over trade and investment, and cyber security. They cannot be resolved at just one meeting.

However, if the two countries' top leaders set the right tone, it will be easier for their teams of officials and experts to work on the issues at forums such as the annual Strategic & Economic Dialogue, scheduled for July in Washington.

With cyber security hitting the headlines in the US media over the past few months, some Americans would like to see the Sunnylands meeting as a cyber summit. Such a wish, however, exposes their ignorance about the breadth and complexity of Sino-US ties.

Even US officials acknowledge that China has been a victim of cyber attacks, many of which Beijing says appeared to originate in the US. Washington, on the other hand, alleges some of the attacks on US sites seem to have originated in China.

Perhaps people who want China and the US to focus exclusively on cyber attacks at the Sunnylands summit should be reminded of the many prolonged tussles between the White House and Congress. When the White House and Congress have not been able to resolve their differences over even seemingly minor issues without a fair amount of debate and compromise, how can they expect the Chinese and US governments to resolve their disputes over thorny issues at one meeting?

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