Tag Archives: summit

The Role of Summits in Global Politics

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are meeting this weekend at a private estate in Southern California at an informal summit. It’s the first such meeting between the two leaders since Xi became president of China in March. At the summit, the two leaders emphasized the need for overcoming differences and forging a new, more productive relationship between the two countries. The agenda includes several “areas of tension,” ranging from North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to cyber espionage and the status of Chinese political prisoners.

While the summit will likely produce flowery rhetoric from both sides, the real purpose of the summit is to develop greater understanding between the two countries. It’s particularly interesting that this summit is being billed as an “informal meeting” rather than a formal state visit. During a formal state visit, formal dinners are held, military honor guards and parades perform, gifts are exchanged, and cultural ties between the countries are promoted. But the formality of such events often precludes more meaningful, unscripted exchanges between the country’s leaders. Summits on the other hand provide an opportunity for leaders to engage in precisely the kind of frank talks that can lead to more productive outcomes.

As Alan Romberg, Director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center observes, the summit is

clearly aimed at creating a productive working relationship for the long term…Overcoming deeply ingrained suspicion will not be easy. But if policy deliberations at the top are characterized by greater mutual confidence, this can help inform more objective mutual perceptions throughout each system. This would significantly enhance both sides’ ability to handle key problems, not only avoiding and managing crises, but creating positive outcomes across a broad spectrum of issues.

The risk, as Gary Schmitt, Director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute notes, is that

the meeting’s real goal is to start building a personal relationship between the two leaders in the hope that it will create momentum for addressing problems of US-China relations in the future. But rarely does statecraft work this way, especially when the disputes between the two countries are not ones of misunderstanding but are, instead, rooted in fundamental differences in history, political systems, and the norms that should guide the international system.

The danger is not that, after two days, the two presidents will not get along personally. The real danger is that, in an effort to get along, they will be less than frank with each other about the actual sources of the problems in the relationship. That’s a recipe for greater, not lesser, problems down the road.

In short, the informal summit appears to be higher-risk, higher-reward strategy to improving US-China relations. If it’s effective, a greater level of US-China cooperation in the global community could help to resolve longstanding tensions in North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere. If it’s unsuccessful, however, it could actually serve to undermine prospects in both the global security situation and in the global economy more broadly.

What do you think? Is the high-risk, high-reward strategy of the informal summit between the United States and China worth it? Will the US-China summit this weekend produce results? Will it fissile out? Will it fail? Take the poll or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

President Barack Obama is in Moscow today, meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to lay the foundation for a new nuclear arms control agreement to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December. In an interesting twist to the meeting, Obama appears to be attempting to improve relations with Medvedev, leaving some to speculate that he is signaling the interest of the United States to work with Medvedev rather than Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who most observers believe holds the real political power in Russia.

In news from outside the Moscow meetings:

1. Rioting by ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, China, has left 140 people dead. Protests broke out in the isolated region in western China over the weekend after police broke up an anti-discrimination protest in the capital, Urumqi. Tensions between Han Chinese and Uighurs had been increasing over the past year, as an oil boom in the Muslim-dominated region led to a massive increase in Han immigration. Security was increased in the region in the run up to the Olympic Games in Beijing last summer, but tensions continued to mount, culminating in this weekend’s violence.

2. Two protestors were killed and several were wounded in Honduras over the weekend. The protestors were awaiting the return of deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled by the country’s military last week. On Sunday, he attempted to return to Honduras from Costa Rica by plane, but his plane was unable to land. As a result of the coup, Honduras has been suspended from the Organization of American States, and the country faces the risk of future formal and informal sanctions, including risking sharp declines in foreign direct investment and reduced access to international credit flows.

3. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has stepped up attacks on Nigeria’s oil infrastructure, following an offer of amnesty from the government. Nigeria’s President, Umaru Yar,Adua, had offered a 60-day amnesty to militants in the region, hoping the offer would bring to a close attacks in the oil-rich Niger delta. But militants appear to have rejected the offer, instead launching a new round of attacks. At issue is the distribution of benefits from the oil industry. The Niger River delta region is one of Nigeria’s poorest regions, despite being home to the vast majority of the country’s oil wealth. Groups living in the delta region are seeking a larger share of the oil revenues and greater autonomy from the Lagos-based government. The conflict has a long history, predating Nigerian independence in 1960. But the most recent phase of the conflict dates to 2006, when MEND launched its attacks.

4. The G8 is preparing to launch a new food security initiative this week, pledging more than U.S. $12 billion over the next three years to support the program. The plan marks a dramatic shift in U.S. policy, which historically has emphasized the provision of emergency food aid sourced from American farmers rather than efforts to expand production of foodstuffs in the developing world. However, the recent global food crisis underscored the vulnerability of global food stocks. With an estimated 1 billion hungry people worldwide and the continuing global financial crisis, observers fear that the global food crisis may yet re-emerge.

5. Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee delivered the country’s new budget on Monday. The budget, which includes sharp increases in infrastructure spending and new protections for Indian farmers, immediately proved unpopular with investors. India has suffered from a slowdown in economic growth resulting from the global economic crisis, and the new budget would expand the country’s fiscal deficit to as much as six percent of gross domestic product. Nevertheless, the new government appears to be committed to is program of “inclusive growth,” moving forward with privatization and liberalization but maintaining protections for the country’s most vulnerable populations.