It is an indication of the state of U.S.-China relations that confirmation of the long-anticipated meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping occurred only days before their summit, even though the date for that conversation had been set months in advance.

Mounting tensions and fraying relations made their meeting an imperative but they also meant that expectations had to be lowered as well.

Those diminished expectations were met. The two men affirmed the need for clear, direct communication and agreed that the increasingly intense competition between the U.S. and China must be bounded to prevent it from becoming an open conflict. This week’s meeting aimed to set a floor under the bilateral relationship; only time will tell if it succeeded. Their language indicated that Biden and Xi understand the challenge; the agreements they reached suggests that the downward trajectory may have been stopped, but there are few grounds for optimism.