The author is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a professor of political science
  The meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama at Sunnylands, the former Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage, California, on June 7-8 was unprecedented in its relatively informal format. More importantly, the meeting was a significant step forward in the process of forging a new type of great power relations between China and the United States.
   Informal format
  While an informal meeting between Chinese and American leaders is not without precedent—President Jiang Zemin visited U.S. President George W. Bush at his ranch in Texas before they both attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Mexico in 2002 —the scope and tone were unique for a meeting of Chinese and U.S. presidents. Such a casual setting, encouraged by the informality of both men (be it Xi’s call to serve only “four dishes and a soup” at official banquets or Obama’s“beer summits”), showed their willingness to apply that informal approach to bettering China-U.S. relations.
  The informal setting, which will be repeated at a future Xi-Obama summit in China, began the process of building a more personal, more cooperative and more sincere relationship between the two leaders. The ultimate beneficiary is China-U.S. relations, as well as the world, largely through an improved level of trust, openness and cooperation between the world’s two preeminent powers.
  Xi and Obama held eight hours of talks—including roughly 50 minutes one on one, with no aides other than their interpreters—that covered a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of common concern. While their talks on the first evening explored security and geopolitical issues, the meetings on the second day focused primarily on economic and trade issues.
  What was notable about this summit is that American and Chinese presidents had never sat down outside Beijing or Washington for a wide-ranging dialogue that continued for many hours, unconstrained by the formalities that come with an official visit. While the meeting lacked most of the usual White House ceremonial honors reserved for a visiting leader, the lack of pomp and circumstance began a new, and promising, phase in China-U.S. relations, one not seen since President Richard Nixon’s meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong in 1972.
  The informal setting provided Xi and Obama with the opportunity to begin an ongoing and constructive dialogue between the two nations that will avoid confrontation and foster genuine cooperation on a range of shared economic and diplomatic issues. While some important issues were raised in the summit, it will probably be best remembered as the “shirt sleeve summit,” where the leaders of the world’s two most important nations got to know each other just a little bit better. The fact that Xi agreed to meet Obama in the United States (technically, it was Obama’s turn to visit China) was a positive sign in China-U.S. relations. It signaled to the world the significance that both nations place on healthier China-U.S. relations.   The summit was the culmination of a series of recent high-level China-U.S. meetings that have emphasized a new tone of cooperation between the two nations. And just in time, considering that the state of China-U.S. relations over the last few years has been one of growing distrust on the part of both nations over long-term goals and intentions. Continuity and change in both Beijing and Washington, with Obama’s re-election last November and the confirmation of President Xi and his leadership team in March, have provided the two nations with an opportunity for closer cooperation on a host of issues of mutual interest and concern.
   Critical juncture
  The last few years have been difficult for China-U.S. relations. Distrust has grown on both sides. China’s rise raises a host of issues for the United States and for China. Now that a new leadership team has taken over in China and Obama has begun his second term, the potential to encourage opportunities for cooperation has arrived. The summit was a first step, one that began by the United States recognizing a rising China with the care and respect that it deserves as a great power.
  China and the United States enjoy an immensely profitable trade and investment relationship. China is the second largest U.S. trade partner, its third largest export market and its biggest source of imports. The United States is expected to replace the EU as China’s largest trade partner this year. The rapid pace of economic cooperation between China and the United States, while mutually beneficial, have made trade rela-tions an increasingly complex issue. Ongoing issues over market access, intellectual property, security reviews of investments and restrictions on technology exports continue to complicate their burgeoning trade relations. All were recognized and discussed during the summit.
  There were a number of expected topics, some of concern to China, some to the United States and some of mutual concern. For example, the cyber security issue, which most Western media played up and oversimplified before the summit, was actually an issue where both China and the United States demonstrated that they are in the process of trying to turn an issue of common challenges into an area of cooperation. Xi told Obama that cyber security should be a new highlight of bilateral cooperation, rather than a source of suspicion and friction.
  Some have downplayed the “shirt sleeve summit,” arguing that it was long on expectations, but short on specifics. Expectations aside, the goal was never about achieving checkmarks on a list of specific policy outcomes (although agreement was reached on working together to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons). Rather, the goal was to develop a degree of trust and familiarity between the two leaders that will allow them to tackle mutual challenges in a more direct and productive manner.   And that goal was met. The summit was a success. No matter how informal, the Sunnylands summit demonstrated the recognition on the part of both nations that ChinaU.S. relations are at a critical juncture. Ultimately, what came out of this meeting will set the tone for China-U.S. relations, and particularly presidential interactions, for the next 10 years.
   New relationship
  The Xi-Obama summit provided a unique opportunity for both presidents to lay the foundations for a new, more mutually productive relationship, one that can weather what may be turbulent decades ahead. Both Xi and Obama sent a clear message about the importance of China-U.S. relations by carving out an opportunity to meet early in the new Chinese leadership’s tenure and to set the tone for engagement during the second term of the Obama administration. By laying the groundwork for a new type of major power relations, antiquated, Cold War-era thinking regarding China-U.S. relations can be avoided through candid discussion and mutual cooperation.
  Xi and Obama have seized upon this opportunity to improve China-U.S. relations. The two presidents addressed areas in which greater cooperation can yield mutually beneficial results, as well as candidly noting where potential areas of conflict still remain. This summit presented China and the United States the opportunity to adopt a long-term perspective on relations, one that will lead to sustained, high-level dialogue on the core threats that will shape the world of the future and the potential roles of China and the United States, both separately and collaboratively in such a world.
  The Xi-Obama summit has set the tone for a new type of bilateral relationship that features reciprocal recognition of China and America’s role as world powers, mutual trust, cooperation and shared economic prosperity.
  While it may not always be easy for either Xi or Obama to avoid misinterpreting the other’s intentions, the spirit of the “shirt sleeve summit”has created momentum to accommodate each side’s views. Although the two nations may well disagree on issues, both sides agreed to avoid conflict, enhance engagement, and deepen cooperation. As President Xi noted: “When China and the United States work together, we can be an anchor for world stability and the propeller of world peace.”