US-China summit: ‘It's so cold in Alaska’

Top officials from the U.S. and China will meet in Anchorage on Thursday and Friday for the first high level summit after President Biden took office. Cornell College of Arts and Sciences faculty experts Allen Carlson discusses the political and economic implications of the summit.

Allen Carlson, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ government department  and an expert on U.S.-China relations, says that the acrimony between the two nations runs deep, much like that of a “bitter married couple” muscling its way through a fractious divorce.

“The U.S.-China relationship is broken, perhaps irrevocably so. The meeting set to take place in Alaska over the next two days between high level officials from both countries, while potentially encouraging, is highly unlikely to do much to halt the long, and ongoing, slide between the two superpowers. For years now, China and America have resembled a bitter married couple publicly muscling their way through a fractious divorce battle, rather than one looking for ways to save the relationship.

“Blame for such acrimony lies on both sides of the Pacific. On the eastern side of the ocean, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made it increasingly evident that as long as he remains in power—which signs indicate may be for life—he will govern the country with an iron fist, and with little regard for how he is perceived by the rest of the world. Such resolve is on full display in his government’s ongoing repressive policies in Xinjiang as well as its continuing crackdown on Hong Kong.

“While in the West, during the Trump administration, American policy toward China was exceptionally confrontational, erratic, and lacking in credibility. Although President Biden has clearly backed away from Trump's more virulent anti-China rhetoric, his White House has done little to reverse the blunt policies his predecessor enacted toward China. Yet, such consistency is not too surprising given there is little interest or will on either side of the aisle in Washington these days to reset the relationship with Beijing.

“The divide between the two countries then runs much deeper than a diplomatic meeting short of a full-blown summit can possibly address, especially when it is far from clear if either Xi or Biden has any real intention of improving the relationship. The situation then calls to mind one of Lou Reed’s saddest songs, ‘Caroline Says, Part II.’ It ends with the haunting refrain, “It’s so cold in Alaska.”

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