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China's Xi Jinping meets with Obama: Will it be a 'Nixon goes to China' moment?

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Jae C. Hong/AP

(Read caption) Supporters of Chinese President Xi Jinping carry Chinese flags as they wait for the arrival of President Xi in Indian Wells, Calif., Thursday. President Obama and Xi, seeking a fresh start to a complex relationship, are retreating to a sprawling desert estate for two days of talks on high-stakes issues, including cybersecurity and North Korea's nuclear threats.

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President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping will meet for at least six hours this weekend in a rare, informal tête-a-tête that some say could reshape the relationship between the two world powers.

Not since 1972, when Nixon went to China, have leaders from China and the US sat down for more than a carefully scripted visit lasting more than an hour or so. And Asia-watchers are hoping this unscripted, two-day Sino-US summit ( allowing for an extended six-hour meeting) will have equally dramatic consequences.

“A second great breakthrough in the relationship has become a Holy Grail,” Orville Schell, head of the Asia Society’s Center for US-China Relations in New York, told the Monitor''s Beijing bureau chief, “Of course it’s hard to do, but that’s their aspiration.”

The Monitor's Peter Ford points out that the second meeting for the two leaders (when Xi was still China's vice president he met with Obama briefly) comes at key time for the US and China:

Strategic trust between the world’s top two economies is at a dangerously low level, worn away recently in a number of ways: Washington has accused Beijing of massive commercial cyberespionage; China is suspicious that President Obama’s military and diplomatic “pivot to Asia” is a bid to contain the Asian giant’s rise; China has pressed territorial claims and clashed with US allies such as Japan and the Philippines.

Still, writes the Monitor's Howard LeFranchi in Washington, not everyone is expecting immediate change, particularly if such urgent issues as cybersecurity are not substantially addressed:

Even though the two leaders are expected to discuss everything from military and corporate cybersecurity to North Korea, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and US-China trade, the summit’s emphasis on building their personal relationship leaves doubters unimpressed.

“If we actually saw a substantial agreement on countering cyberthreats … or saw the Chinese throttle back on territorial claims, that would be significant,” says Dean Cheng, a research fellow in Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

For the rest of the story on the "great new power relationship" between China and the US, click here.

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