In a pivotal moment for global relations, Chinese President Xi Jinping embarked on a four-day trip to San Francisco, United States, in November 2023. It was one of several public relations wins for the Chinese leader on his first trip in six years to the United States, where he and President Joe Biden reached agreements covering fentanyl, military communications and artificial intelligence on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Amidst the complexities of the China-US relationship, this visit served as a crucial opportunity to foster dialogue, address challenges, and lay the foundation for a more stable and mutually beneficial partnership between the world’s two largest economies.
Xi attended over 10 bilateral and multilateral events, including a summit with US President Joe Biden that spanned over four hours, and a banquet with US business executives and citizens committed to promoting bilateral friendship, during which he received a standing ovation several times. Xi’s itinerary included a bilateral summit with US President Joe Biden, a series of meetings with American business leaders and representatives from various sectors, and an address to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting. These engagements provided a platform for both sides to exchange views on a wide range of issues, including trade, technology, climate change, and regional security.
China’s economy is slowing and earlier this month it reported its first quarterly deficit in foreign direct investment. And the ruling Communist Party has battled political intrigues that have raised questions about Xi’s decision-making, including the sudden and unexplained removals of his foreign minister and defence minister.
Key outcomes of the summit include agreements to step up counternarcotics cooperation, jointly tackle the climate crisis, resume high-level military-to-military communication and expand educational, student, youth, cultural, sports and business exchanges. Xi also laid out the five pillars of China-US relations, urging both sides to develop a right perception of each other, effectively manage their differences, jointly advance mutually beneficial cooperation, shoulder responsibilities together as major countries and forge stronger people-to-people exchanges. In his public remarks to Biden, Xi suggested China sought peaceful coexistence with the United States, and he told business leaders China was ready to be a “partner and friend” to the U.S., words partially aimed at a business community alarmed by China’s crackdown on various industries and the use of exit bans and detentions against some executives.
On top of that, Biden’s Republican opponents argue the U.S. is missing an opportunity by not leveraging China’s flagging economic momentum for more diplomatic gains.
Despite these challenges, Xi’s visit to San Francisco demonstrated the importance of dialogue and engagement in managing the China-US relationship. Both sides acknowledged the need to approach their differences with a spirit of mutual respect and understanding. While challenges undoubtedly remain, the summit and subsequent engagements have laid the groundwork for a more constructive and mutually beneficial partnership between the two nations.