Last week’s call between President Biden and Xi Jinping accompanied rumors of an early summit meeting. That would be premature and even dangerous. If Xi demands Biden essentially give Beijing ownership of the China Seas — including Taiwan — Biden would be forced into confrontation, the opposite of a summit’s purpose.

Some fear Beijing may manufacture a showdown over Taiwan, not necessarily threatening invasion but increasing pressures. Beijing figures they’re growing stronger while we grow weaker. Should we counter Chinese moves against Taiwan? We have still not defined U.S. national interests in the Indo-Pacific. DoD has begun developing strategy for the “China challenge.” We need this before any U.S.-China summit.

Many summits are counterproductive. Far from soothing relations, they often make them worse. Personal meetings — the way American domestic politics is conducted — ignore major gaps in global power, economies and intentions. The classic failure was the 1938 Hitler-Chamberlain meeting in Munich. Chamberlain thought appeasement had preserved “peace in our time.”

At the 1961 Kennedy-Khrushchev summit in Vienna, less than two months after the failed Bay of Pigs, the Soviet party chief proclaimed support for Communist-led wars of national liberation worldwide. Kennedy, feeling spoken down to, left smarting and committed to stopping the Communists in Vietnam.

President Trump supposed he could personally charm North Korea’s Kim Jung Un — who routinely murders relatives — into ending Pyongyang’s decades-old drive to build nuclear weapons. All you need are handshakes and smiles, like a real-estate deal. Kim played Trump and gained international prestige at no cost. Kim now has more nukes and rockets than ever.

Summits are good for signing ceremonies and photo ops after professional diplomats have hashed out paragraphs. Diplomacy reflects interests and power and cannot solve all problems. Personal persuasion counts for little.

Occasionally, a summit works. Soviet party chief Gorbachev, in increasingly dire economic straits, came to Geneva in 1985 knowing he had to call off the Cold War. His deal with President Reagan relaxed tensions and led to the Soviet pullout from East Europe in 1989 and collapse in 1991. Without Soviet weakness, there would have been no deal.

Long before a summit, diplomats need to tally who’s got what kind of power. China’s economy, despite the pandemic, continues to grow. China, however, is caught in the economic zig-zag typical of communist countries trying to boost production — a few years of liberalization followed by a few years of retightening, never finding stability. Despite Xi’s crackdowns, corruption is endemic.

Chinese military power grows. They have modernized everything, especially their navy. They lack, however, allies. Russia is a junior partner in economic difficulties and with little presence in the Pacific. To its south, China faces the hostility it created in an arc around the Indo-Pacific region. By making the China Seas its exclusive zone and militarizing artificial islands, China has bullied and alienated most of its southerly neighbors.

Xi has cowed most Chinese. My Chinese political-science contacts annually wish me a good new year. No substantive discussions. The Achilles heel of authoritarianism, orderly leadership successions, remains. Xi, having lifted China’s two-term limits for himself, may stay party chief and president for life. Chairman of China’s many cross-ministerial Leading Small Groups, he micro manages, a concentration of power that amplifies mistakes. There is no one to say no. The structural weaknesses of the post-Stalin and post-Mao regimes were never fully uprooted.

Now, the big question: Beijing’s intentions. They’re on a power roll and intend to continue. They see a U.S. in terminal decline and intend to replace us on the world scene. The ambitious Belt and Road Initiative aims to make much of the rest of the world, even Europe, dependent on Chinese investment. So far, however, BRI has netted few economic gains and has cost a bundle. Victims of Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy” resent Chinese dominance. China may be overreaching.

And we must understand that we’re limited, too. On Jan. 6, the U.S. instantly demoted itself from the upper ranks of the world’s democracies. No other democracy has seen a violent mob breach its national legislature. Politically, we are fractured worse than during Vietnam. One party preaches unity but practices angry division. Washington has checkpoints and Green Zones (like Baghdad) patrolled by the National Guard. Maskless Americans scorn masked Americans.

The U.S. economy may recover this year but on the unsustainable basis of near-zero interest rates and a trillion dollars a year poured into the stock market. Investors go bonkers; the GameStop uprising portends market instability. Major players buy gold, Bitcoins and their own companies’ stocks while “shorting” weak firms. This does nothing for jobs and wages. The rich get richer; inequality soars.

George Soros generously promoted democracy in East Europe, but now his attention belongs where democracy is in peril: America. When China and America get their respective problems squared away, then, after thorough professional preparation, we can hold a summit.