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ix INTRODUCTION A Gathering Storm or a New Chapter? ••• I n the summer of 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping flew to southern California to engage in a “shirtsleeve summit” with U.S. President Barack Obama at the historic Sunnylands estate. The former mansion of Walter H. Annenberg, who bequeathed the property to the city of Rancho Mirage, Sunnylands has been called the “Camp David of the West” and has served as a political refuge and diplomatic hosting site for Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush.1 In this case, the location fulfilled two purposes. First, by meeting President Xi outside of Washington, D.C., President Obama sought to create more intimate working conditions free from the usual pressures of balancing the needs of D.C. insiders, White House personnel, swarming media, and invitation-seeking lobbyists and elected officials. Second, and more importantly, President Obama sought to send a clear message about life in America. For, as prominent Chinese intellectual Wang Jisi has observed, imagining the United States “as a x Introduction declining hegemon is almost a form of political correctness in China.”2 Sunnylands offered the perfect antidote to this perception, for it enabled President Obama to draw upon the setting’s magnificent views, clean air, stunning architecture, manicured grounds, and world-class art collection to portray an elegant, relaxed, urbane, and prosperous United States. The tranquil setting belied the fact that Presidents Obama and Xi met amid rising global tensions. Prefaced by months of conflict between the two nations regarding alleged cyberattacks on each other’s military, economic, and intellectual infrastructure, differing perspectives on how to contain North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, contested territorial claims in the South China Sea, heated exchanges concerning China’s artificially deflated currency and the United States’ perpetually increasing national debt, and ongoing differences regarding human rights, free speech, and norms of governance, the stakes of the meeting were high. Writing in the New York Times, David Sanger framed the goals of the summit in preventative terms, as if the best anyone could hope for was averting embarrassment or, worse, an escalation of conflict. President Obama, Sanger argued, needed to avoid a series of looming “pitfalls” in order to prevent the two nations from “descending into a Cold War mentality.”3 Sanger’s gloomy outlook reflects a deep-seated U.S. unease about China’s rise, a concern expressed in Ian Bremmer’s warning that the United States and China face a “gathering storm.”4 Both nations’ leaders did their part at Sunnylands to counter the perception that U.S.–China conflict is inevitable. After a series of one-on-one meetings, close-quarter meals, and leisurely walks staged to demonstrate collegial and intimate conversation, the two presidents entered the press conference of June 8 smiling and looking relaxed. President Obama spoke first, pointing to what he called “very constructive conversations on a whole range of strategic issues”; President Xi echoed that cordial line, noting that the discussions at the summit were “in depth, sincere, and candid.”5 While the U.S. press took a wary tone with the summit, the Chinese press was ebullient, with the People’s Daily celebrating “a forward thrust in Sino–US relations” and “a new chapter in China–U.S. relations.”6 Despite the cheerful location, the tight scripting, and the positive press coverage out of Beijing, many observers could not help but watch the “shirtsleeve summit” with a sense of trepidation, for U.S.–China Introduction xi relations have been marked for more than sixty years by entrenched misunderstandings, unproductive communication patterns, and simmering rivalries.7 These cumulative tensions infuse Bill Gertz’s call to crisis, China Threat; they fuel Martin Jacques’s predictions of what will happen When China Rules the World; they underwrite the prognostications of Stefan Halper’s The Beijing Consensus: How China’s Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century; and they drive the “global call to action” offered in Peter Navarro and Greg Autry’s Death by China.8 Combined with the warnings of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Defense Science Board, various think tanks, and multiple U.S. intelligence agencies, this collection of voices expresses what Stephen J. Hartnett has called “the rhetoric of war-hawk hysteria,” an anxiety-producing form of threat construction meant to escalate tensions with China (and others), thus ensuring continued spending on the military and intelligence projects that are...


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