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For the past two weeks Chinese and American negotiators have been locked in talks in Beijing and Washington to end their trade conflict before the deadline of March 1st......Don't be distracted by mind-numbing details on soybean imports and car-joint ventures. At stake is one of the 21st century's most consequential issues: the trajectory of China's $ 14trn economy.

Added from OP's comment:

I know the basic meanings of "at stake", but I find it difficult to decide which best fits in the context. I thinking both "under discussion" and "in the process of being determined as a positive or negative outcome" make sense. But translators from "The Economist" magazine decided on "what matters most". I'm confused...

  • Welcome to the site. Please note that questions which can be answered by a simple web search or dictionary are off topic and likely to be closed. You can see a dictionary definition here – fred2 Mar 15 at 3:59
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    😂My bad for not making it clear. I know the basic meanings of "at stake", but I find it difficult to decide which best fits in the context. I thinking both "under discussion" and "in the process of being determined as a positive or negative outcome" make sense. But translators from "The Economist" magazine decided on "what matters most". I'm confused... – Lily Zhang Mar 15 at 7:01
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The term is actually related gambling; that which might be won or lost by those gambling is the stake, so that is what is at stake. All of the other meanings descend from this.

Thus it is saying that what might be "won or lost", that is to say what might be in question for a positive or negative outcome, is "the trajectory of China's ... economy". That is what will be determined by the trade talks.

A translator may decide to refocus it to "what matters most" because of the context. There are lots of little details, but what really matters is the impact on what the economy does in future. I disagree with a translation like that, because it is not that this matters more than the little details; it is that the most meaningful impact of all the little details will be the effect on the economy as a whole.

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