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SUMMARY of the article “US-China thaw?” by Maleeha Lodhi, published on November 27, 2023

Against the backdrop of Israel’s conflict with Gaza, the meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping during the Asia Pacific Economic (APEC) forum in San Francisco marked a notable improvement in the strained relations between the US and China. Preceded by diplomatic visits, the summit aimed to stabilize ties that had reached an all-time low. While no significant breakthroughs were expected or achieved, the tone of the relationship improved, with both leaders expressing the need for stable competition. Three areas of agreement emerged: the restoration of high-level military communication, the establishment of a presidential hotline, and cooperation to restrict fentanyl production. The resumption of military relations, especially given the situation in the South China Sea, is crucial for reducing the risk of miscalculation. However, major differences persist over Taiwan, trade, technology, and military postures. The summit, while representing a tentative thaw, highlights the focus on crisis management in the months ahead, offering relief to concerns about global economic and political stability.

Easy/Short SUMMARY:

The recent meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping signaled a positive shift in US-China relations, addressing concerns that had escalated to an all-time low. While the summit didn’t yield significant breakthroughs, it marked a step towards stabilizing ties. The agreement included restoring military communication, establishing a hotline, and cooperating on limiting fentanyl production. Despite improved tones, major disagreements persist over Taiwan, trade, and technology. The summit emphasizes crisis management and offers relief to global stability concerns.

SOLUTIONS of The Problem:

Enhanced Crisis Management

Invest in mechanisms for effective crisis management to prevent inadvertent conflicts, particularly in areas of heightened military activity like the South China Sea, and foster better communication channels.

Multilateral Dialogue

Encourage multilateral dialogue involving key stakeholders to address contentious issues and establish common ground, reducing the risk of miscalculations and conflicts.

Technology Collaboration

Explore opportunities for collaboration in technology to bridge gaps and ease tensions, fostering an environment of shared progress rather than competition.

Trade Negotiations

Initiate negotiations on trade-related concerns to find mutually beneficial solutions, reducing trade tensions and promoting stability in the global economy.

Taiwan Diplomacy

Facilitate diplomatic efforts to address Taiwan-related issues, seeking compromises that respect international norms and prevent the escalation of conflicts.

IMPORTANT Facts and Figures Given in the article:

  • Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping’s meeting was the first face-to-face interaction in over a year.
  • Diplomatic visits preceded the summit, including visits to Beijing by top American officials and a visit to Washington by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
  • The agreement at the summit focused on restoring high-level military communication, establishing a presidential hotline, and cooperating to restrict fentanyl production.
  • Major disagreements persist on issues such as Taiwan, trade, technology, and military postures.
  • US-China competition has intensified in technology, particularly in the “chip war,” with the US imposing measures to restrict chip exports to China.
  • The summit is seen as a tentative melting of the ice between the two superpowers, with a focus on crisis management in the future.

MCQs from the Article:

  1. What marked a notable improvement in US-China relations?
    A. Economic sanctions
    B. Meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping
    C. Military conflict
    D. Diplomatic isolation

  2. What were the three areas of agreement at the summit?
    A. Trade negotiations, military withdrawal, technology collaboration
    B. Environmental protection, cultural exchange, economic aid
    C. Restoration of military communication, presidential hotline, cooperation on fentanyl production
    D. Human rights dialogue, space exploration, educational partnerships

  3. Which issue remains a dangerous flashpoint in China-US confrontation?
    A. Climate change
    B. Taiwan
    C. Cybersecurity
    D. Nuclear disarmament

  4. What area of competition has intensified between the US and China?
    A. Cultural diplomacy
    B. Space exploration
    C. Technology, particularly the “chip war”
    D. Environmental protection

  5. What is the focus of the relationship between the US and China in the months ahead, according to the article?
    A. Economic expansion
    B. Crisis management
    C. Military alliances
    D. Technological dominance


  1. Thaw (noun) (دوبارہ): A gradual increase in temperature, leading to the melting of ice.

  2. Overshadowed (verb) (چھپا دینا): Cast a shadow over, making less important or prominent.

  3. Summits (noun) (اجلاس): Meetings between leaders, often involving discussions on important issues.

  4. Frosty (adjective) (سخت): Unfriendly or reserved in manner.

  5. Bilateral (adjective) (دو طرفہ): Involving or relating to two parties, especially countries.

  6. Diplomatic Engagements (noun) (دپلومیٹک مصالحت): Interactions and negotiations between diplomats or governments.

  7. De-escalation (noun) (تخفیف): The reduction or easing of a conflict or crisis.

  8. Flashpoint (noun) (جسمانی): A place or stage at which violence may erupt.

  9. Escalation (noun) (تیزی): An increase in the intensity or seriousness of a situation.

  10. Contentious (adjective) (جھگڑالو): Causing or likely to cause an argument; controversial.

  11. Inadvertent (adjective) (غیر ارادی): Not resulting from or achieved through deliberate planning.

  12. Global Economy (noun) (عالمی معیشت): The interconnected economies of the world.

  13. Superpowers (noun) (سپرپاورز): Nations with significant global influence and power.

  14. Tech Supremacy (noun) (ٹیک سپریمسی): Dominance in the field of technology.

  15. Multilateral Dialogue (noun) (بہ اکثریت مکالمہ): Discussions involving multiple parties or nations.

  16. Curbs (noun) (رکاوٹ): Restrictions or limitations on something.

  17. Counterproductive (adjective) (مخالفت انگیز): Having the opposite of the desired effect.

  18. Norms (noun) (اصول): Accepted standards or rules of behavior.

  19. Escalation (noun) (تیزی): An increase in the intensity or seriousness of a situation.

  20. Tentative (adjective) (پر امکان): Not certain or fixed; provisional.

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US-China thaw?
By Maleeha Lodhi

OVERSHADOWED by Israel’s war on Gaza, the meeting earlier this month between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping didn’t receive as much media attention as China-US summits usually do. But it yielded a welcome thaw in their long frosty relations. Their meeting on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic (APEC) forum in San Francisco was their first face-to-face interaction in over a year, and ranged over bilateral and global issues and all the contentious areas that divide them. Both sides saw the summit as an opportunity to stabilise ties, which in recent years have sunk to an all-time low.

The meeting was preceded by a series of visits to Beijing by top American officials, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, CIA chief Bill Burns and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also visited Washington in October. These multiple diplomatic engagements helped to bring down the temperature and also create a helpful environment for the California summit.

No big breakthrough was anticipated at the summit. And there wasn’t one. However, agreement on several fronts marked a step towards easing tensions, holding out the possibility of building on the modest progress achieved for a more predictable and stable relationship. Improvement in the tone of the relationship was significant, with positive vibes from both sides. Xi told Biden that the “planet was big enough” for both the global powers. Biden spoke of the need to responsibly manage the competition “so it doesn’t result in conflict”. He also said that “a stable relationship between the world’s two largest economies is not merely good for the two economies but for the world”.

In his solo press conference, Biden later repeated a remark he made earlier this year that he saw Xi as a “dictator”. This provoked an angry response from Beijing but did not detract from the diplomatic advance made at the summit. The Chinese media described the meeting as “a new starting point” for bilateral relations. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman called the summit “a positive, comprehensive and constructive meeting of strategic and far-reaching significance”.

The three areas where the two sides were able to reach agreement were: to restore high-level military-to-military communication, establish a presidential hotline, and cooperate to restrict the production of fentanyl, a precursor chemical responsible for drug overdoses in the US. Re-establishing military relations, suspended by Beijing since 2022, was, of course, the most significant. This means the resumption of China-US Defence Policy Coordination Talks, China-US Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings, and telephonic contact between theatre commanders. If implemented without hurdles, this should help to reduce the risk of miscalculation, especially given the fraught situation in the South China Sea, where both sides have air and naval deployments.

The future trajectory of this critical relationship has far-reaching repercussions for the world.

The agreement on counter-narcotics involved China’s commitment to check the production of fentanyl precursors to prevent their ending up with drug cartels and contributing to America’s drug problem. Biden is reported to have conveyed his appreciation for Xi’s commitment, while also saying he would “trust but verify” Chinese actions in this regard. The creation of a counter-narcotics working group is expected to coordinate these efforts.

Cooperation in these areas and the mutual desire to strengthen communication channels may help to halt the slide in China-US relations. But while the talks were said to be wide-ranging and also covered the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the summit didn’t see differences between the two global powers narrowing over the major issues and disputes that drive tensions in their strategic competition — Taiwan, trade, technology curbs and military postures. Indeed, both sides used the summit to again spell out their positions and red lines on Taiwan. Xi told Biden to cease arming Taiwan and reiterate that reunification was inevitable. The Chinese foreign ministry readout later said Beijing expected the US side to now “follow through on its statement of not supporting Taiwan independence and support China’s peaceful reunification”. Biden called for restraint by China on Taiwan while reiterating US support for its ‘One China’ policy. Western analysts noted that Biden seemed to step back from his tough rhetoric of a year ago, when he repeatedly referred to China’s coercive posture on Taiwan, and in a departure from previous US policy, even said American forces would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

Taiwan, however, continues to be a dangerous flashpoint in the China-US confrontation. This was laid bare earlier this year when there was a near collision in June between a Chinese warship and a United States Navy guided-missile destroyer. This underscored what the international community has long feared — an inadvertent drift into a conflict that neither side wants but may be unable to avert in a region bristling with heightened military activity. Thus, the renewal of high-level military contacts acquires importance in enabling the two countries to reduce the risk of a full-blown crisis or conflict.

US-China competition has also intensified in the area of technology. Washington is engaged in a battle to maintain supremacy with an intense ‘chip war’ underway. A year ago, it imposed sweeping measures to bar American companies and allied countries from exporting chips and advanced chip equipment to China to cripple its semiconductor industry, which manufactures chips and circuits for modern electronics ranging from supercomputers and smartphones to automobiles. Despite the fact that these sanctions proved to be counterproductive, last month the US tightened restrictions on exports of advanced computer chips to retard China’s efforts to develop artificial intelligence. The US justified the new curbs as aimed at limiting China’s use of these for military purposes. Beijing slammed them as a violation of “the principles of fair competition” and designed to thwart its technological progress.

Given unresolved differences on these and other contentious issues in their strategic rivalry, the San Francisco summit represents a tentative melting of the ice between the two superpowers, but little more for now. It suggests that in the months ahead, the focus of the relationship will be on crisis management. Nevertheless, the effort at de-escalation comes as a relief for the international community increasingly concerned about a confrontation that has far-reaching repercussions for the global economy and world stability.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, UK and UN.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2023

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