How could it be otherwise? The first face to face exchanges were always going to be confrontational. If one side accuses the other of genocide there is no place for warm exchanges – “Did you have a good flight?”
The stakes are high. The No 1 country, the US, feels the need to meet with the No 2 country, China. And both are speaking at each other – and to the world.
So are they merely speaking to their respective constituencies? No. both sides believe in what they say. It is deep seated, strategic and direct. Relations are bad.
And yet they have to see if they can do business together. Without concessions from either side, the world needs the US and China first, to take steps to avoid an accidental nuclear war and, second, to work together in areas where they have a common interest – climate control.
Maybe they can + maybe they can’t + remember the US, two days ago, imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese and HK officials because of differences over HK. Maybe animosity will come on top. Maybe statesmanship will prevail. The stakes could not be higher. The US is declining. China is ascending. The battle lines are drawn.