Zheng Wang wrote for for Foreign Policy about how a mutually agreed-upon diplomatic break between the US and China could ease diplomatic relations:
Donald Trump considers himself America’s foremost dealmaker. And there’s no bigger deal he could make at the outset of his administration, for the world’s sake and his own, than a bargain with Chinese leader Xi Jinping that would prevent a head-on collision between the two superpowers. If Trump is wise, he will recognize that Xi would be just as interested in such a deal.
Trump and Xi are in the same situation — 2017 is a year of power transition for both leaders, which is why they have an interest in focusing on domestic, rather than international, issues. Trump is undoubtedly aware that, as of Jan. 20, the American public will hold him responsible for his repeated promises to make their country great again. He may be less aware that, in the fall of 2017 China will hold the 19th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, a very special and sensitive time in Chinese politics. The Communist Party convenes its national congress every five years to solidify leadership changes at the top levels. A majority of the Politburo Standing Committee is expected to retire at this incoming congress. Xi’s priority this year is to ensure the success of the Congress and use it to consolidate his power base as China’s core leader.
Historically, the Party Congress has also been a time of heightened domestic nationalism — and thus a time when Beijing made unusually tough responses to external incidents to appease the public. The most recent example was China’s furious reaction to the Japanese central government’s purchase of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands during the last Party Congress in 2012. The Sino-Japanese relationship has not recovered from that crisis.