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Among the many important international meetings earlier this month — the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and the sit-downs among assembled heads of state on the sidelines, and the Group of 20 meeting in Australia — one of the most vital, surpassing even the long-anticipated encounter between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, was the summit between Xi and U.S. President Barack Obama.

A relationship that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently called “the most consequential in the world today, period” has been deteriorating, battered by a series of incidents and mounting distrust and suspicion on both sides. This slide in relations is a vivid counterpoint to the high hopes created by the “shirt sleeves summit” between Obama and Xi in Sunnylands, California, a little over a year ago. Then, the two men agreed to establish a “new type of major country relations” that would channel and dissipate tensions created by China’s rise and Beijing’s claim to greater power and influence within East Asia.

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