When the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong were discussing the idea of holding peace talks in the late 60’s, it took the parties 10 months to decide on the shape of the table where they would all sit during the negotiations. It ended up round.
This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the symbolic importance of every detail when heads of state meet in a public setting to iron out their differences. They want to look good back home.
So aids and diplomats on both sides have been working overtime to prepare for the meeting between President Biden and Xi Jinping next Wednesday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in San Francisco.
The major issues include who comes in the room first, who sits where, whether to serve water in a bottle or a glass, if there will be flowers and if so, what kind, or whether or not they will have lunch together which involves another huge layer of protocol considerations.
But none of this precludes the entire summit going up in smoke if one leader accidentally falls down and spills coffee on the other, or worse yet, says something dumb that jolts the world order.