CNN —  It happened, therefore it was a success.

President Joe Biden’s summit with China’s President Xi Jinping south of San Francisco Wednesday may have closed a trap door under the world’s most critical diplomatic relationship, which has plunged to its most acrimonious level in 50 years.

But with expectations set so deliberately low and with each side having significant incentives to declare the meeting productive, it was hardly an achievement that the mood music was upbeat after four hours of talks, punctuated by a lunch of herbed ricotta ravioli, tarragon roasted chicken and almond meringue cake.

Biden came away hopeful that he had eased the risks posed by US and Chinese forces operating in perilously close quarters in the Asia-Pacific, which he wants to avoid escalating into yet another politically ruinous global crisis during his reelection bid next year.

Xi needed to make a statement to his domestic constituency in the communist hierarchy that he has vital US relations under control at a time of economic strife. He also needed to send a signal that China now sees it in its interest to deescalate tensions with other major powers, especially the US, after a fraught chapter.

Yet the important but incremental progress made at the Georgian revival-style mansion will do little to mitigate the underlying factors driving the US and China toward a more dangerous rivalry.

Styling his approach to Xi as “trust but verify,” Biden explained after the summit that while China and the US were in a competitive relationship, “my responsibility is to make it … rational and manageable, so it so it doesn’t result in conflict – that’s what I’m all about.”

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