Tip Sheets

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

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli

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. The following Cornell University experts are available to discuss the political and economic implications of the summit.

Allen R. Carlson

Associate Professor in Cornell University’s Government Department

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.  


Carlson says:

“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.”

Robert Hockett

Professor of Law

Robert Hockett, is a professor of law at Cornell Law School and an expert on trade and financial markets.


Hockett says:

“While this week's summits between the Biden administration and its Asian counterparts are not expected to produce 'breakthroughs,' no such expectation would have made sense in connection with these first-ever, 'getting to know you' sessions in any event.

“What should and indeed can reasonably be expected in these meetings are (a) preliminary sharing of concerns and (b) sincere demonstrations of mutual respect. As stage-setting preliminaries, moreover, the importance of these meetings should not be gainsaid. The previous White House's opening salvos, long on uncivilized rhetoric and short on constructive or even concrete proposals, were after all hardly productive. 

“Our relations with our Asian peers, from China and North Korea through Japan, South Korea, India, Oceania and beyond, will be among the most fateful cross-national collaborations in history. Trade arrangements must be made to cohere with domestic rebuilding and supply chain restoration. Industrialization and re-industrialization must for its part cohere with the imperative of rescuing our planet before it terminally burns. And the world must 'get on one page' both to end COVID-19 and to preempt the later pandemics which are already germinating.

“Now is accordingly the time for all leaders to make plain, in respect and good faith, what matters most to their countries. Only on that basis do we begin making this world both just and inhabitable for literally all its inhabitants - each of which has equal claim to our hope and concern.”

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