The world is safer this week than last week. The Sino-American summit between presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao succeeded in stabilizing the world’s most important relationship. After more than a year of fluctuating and deteriorating ties, causing unsettling ripple effects throughout the Asia-Pacific region and globally, U.S.-China relations were in dire need of stabilization.
Now the key question is how long can the new stability achieved at the summit last? Any observer of Sino-American relations should be both cautiously optimistic but skeptical. Establishing equilibrium in ties between the United States and China has been hard enough over the years – sustaining it has been even harder. If there’s been one overriding characteristic in the relationship over the past 30 years, it has been fluctuation and disequilibrium.
As a result, this summit could not have come at a more propitious time. The period since President Obama’s state visit to China in November 2009 until this past week has been perhaps the worst period in two decades of relations since the Tiananmen incident of 1989. Both sides took advantage of the opportunity to “reset” the tone of the relationship. Now the hope is that a new tone can result in tangible cooperation.