Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the U.S., having summit with newly elected President Trump, symbolizes an era of “strategic patience” as both sides clearly understand the costs and benefits of confrontation and cooperation. President Xi Jinping’s “economic connectivity”, through his belt and road initiative, may stem cooperation as well as competition between the two states in the future.

Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded, an official state visit to the U.S. earlier in April. Before him, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had visited the U.S. and met President Trump. For Trump, Japan still stands more favourite than China and there are reasons for that, i.e. due to the emerging geopolitical realities and tug-of-war in the Asia-Pacific region. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe famously received a nineteen-second long handshake, while President Xi got a routine gesture of welcome. Also, President Xi went to Mar-a-Lago in the first place and President Trump came a bit late. It is important to mention here that the Chinese high-ups and even the rank and file have traditionally been very sensitive about the protocols their President gets around the world during his official visits.

The visit was an effort to neutralize President Trump’s America. President Trump had been very vocal against China during his election campaign. North Korea, Asia-Pacific, and economic issues could have been the very causes of President Xi’s state visit to the U.S. The U.S. President Trump stands for “economic nationalism” and the Chinese President Xi Jinping stands for “economic connectivity” through his belt and road initiative in the world. Overall, the body language of the two leaders remained comfortable. Both leaders’ focus remains on the economy, which in return could be a prospect and as well as a challenge. President Xi’s visit has confirmed that an era of strategic patience is seen on both sides and they clearly understand the costs and benefits of confrontation and cooperation between the two great powers in the world at present.

If one looks at the pages of history, overall this is Xi Jinping’s eighth visit in different capacities including the President of China, to a country that somehow or the other does not seem happy with China on a number of issues lately. There is no denying the fact that the trust-deficit is visible between the two powers and the mutual relationship has been victim to this. The Chinese President was visiting the U.S. while America sent its warships to the Korean peninsula. Does anyone remember that during his election campaign, President Trump had floated an idea that for fixing the North Korean issue, China is the answer. Lately, President Trump seems busy in believing the unilateral military solution of the issues these days, i.e. from bombing Syria that annoyed both Iran and Russia to sending warships to check North Korea to test Kim Jong-Un’s patience.

These two incidents point towards the fact that the US is slowly reverting back to its “unilateralism”, which somehow had taken a back seat during two terms of President Obama. The timing of these two incidents is of great importance as President Xi was at Mar-a-Lago summit and the message was delivered loud and clear, i.e. China must get serious about North Korea. The other message to the world went that America is still ready for world leadership when it comes to world issues. During the two terms of President Obama, America somehow seemed to take along its allies and partners in fixing the issues.

The meeting between the leaders of the two largest economies of the world did get overshadowed by the US missile attacks in Syria and sending warships to the Korean peninsula. Sending warships also gave an impression that the US could also go solo in fixing the North Korean nuclear issue in the near future. The Syrian fiasco occupied the international media. The post-visit analyses have been nominal and the world attention has been shifted to US-Russia equation.

Now the question arises, has the US declared war on Syria and is going to do the same with North Korea? Constitutionally, the US can declare war when the Congress approves it as it did in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan. But, the US Congress seems divided on the Syrian attacks and some lawmakers have even called for Congressional oversight and authorization for further military actions in the future.

Here, it is important to mention that Chinese have seldom shown the slightest inclination to be involved with Assad regime’s problems. President Trump said that progress had been made at the meeting with his Chinese counterpart, though he did not specifically mention what type and on what issue the progress has been made. China somehow wanted to engage President Trump early and that is the reason Chinese President Xi visited America. The troubles in US-China relations mainly revolve around the Pacific politics.

Ongoing shifts in geopolitical power and structure from the West to the East make the Asia-Pacific region more important to the US today than ever before and the same applies to China as well. Both giants have been trying to outwit each other, though the situation has not yet touched the level of direct confrontation. President Trump mentioned in his briefing to the media that he “believes lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away…” This shows the seriousness of issues between the two powers in the world.

Overall, it appears that the Chinese have been trying their best to normalize the relations with the world’s sole super power no matter how America has been struggling to maintain its unipolarity around the world. But, again President Trump in his statement said that so far he did not get anything from the long discussion with his counterpart. So, it indicates that China does not seem to move away from its stated policy on various issues with the US and the same applies to the US.

The issues between the two remain there and are cumbersome and would need bilateral resolve from both sides in the future. But the fact is the Asia-Pacific dynamics have every potential to bring both the US and China eyeball to eyeball. At present, no party seems ready to give concessions to other and the conclusion of the visit did not bring any substantial results so far as the same environment of “not enemy nor friend” exists between the two. But the visits of such kind do have impacts as these could help in bridging the trust-deficit gap that seems to have touched the maximum mark in their bilateral history today than ever.

DISCLAIMER:The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.

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Khalid Chandio is Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Pakistan. His areas of research include (i) US foreign and defence policy and (ii) internal dynamics of the US/domestic politics (Lobbies in the US). Khalid regularly contributes articles on current strategic issues in English dailies of Pakistan. He achieved award/certificate of “NESA ALUMNUS” by Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University (NDU), Washington, D.C., US.