predecessors – and of course economic circumstances have weakened his hand. He is, one hopes,not going to be crass in his demands of China.One assumes that Obama would realize just how counterproductive it would be for the US,whose economic model has never looked so dodgy, to lecture China, for whom a growth rate fouror five times the US’s, seems to be overstretched in its own right. He will also understand that Xihas his own domestic politics to worry about.The Communist Party has pretty much abandoned the dialectic of the class struggle, and the gluethat holds it together is the nationalism of an oft-humiliated civilization.So the talks are an opportunity for quiet dialogue and a development of rapport between the twoleaders. Beijing might offer magnanimous compromises or exit routes on many of the maritimeborder issues, for example, but would certainly bridle at any ultimata. But the US is hardly in aposition to brandish ultimata.
Room for compromise
In the case of Taiwan, for example, the administration’s efforts are more about stopping Taipeitickling the dragon than building up a prickly defence. The long obfuscation of Congressionalefforts to sell F-16s to Taipei shows successive presidents’ deference to Beijing’s sensibilities,which on the face of it is illogical appeasement. The planes are only of use if China attacks – noone seriously expects Taiwan to attack the mainland, after all. But Washington has to takeaccount of the importance of the island in China’s inner party rivalries.There is room for compromise. If we consider, for example, North Korea as China’s Israel, anembarrassing but ineradicable ally, it would frame the limits of what Washington couldreasonably expect China to do in a low key way. Xi can no more disown Kim Jong-un publiclythan Obama can repudiate Netanyahu, but there are important gestures available.Obama could pledge, for example, that US forces would withdraw from the Korean Peninsula inthe wake of any re-unification, thus avoiding the triumphalistic mistakes in Europe that still fuelRussian resentment.In fact, there is another model the two might adopt. Britain and the US were similar rivals andpartners, tied as much by financial chains as any alleged common bonds of culture and language.The US facilitated the decline of its erstwhile rival, moving from debtor to creditor – and, itmight be added, doing its best to stab its ally in the back financially even as they fought together.But it has not approached military tensions since the British burnt the White House in 1814.Of course, unless the Tea Party triumphs and splits the US into autonomous fragments, the US isnever going to decline as precipitately as Britain shorn of empire, but it is possible for a risingChina to be partners with a still powerful, although relatively declining America.It would appear that Xi and the Chinese are prepared for this.