Xi-Biden Meeting Helps to Bring China-U.S. Relations Out of the Deep Freeze
There is still much work to be done and some re-thinking needed among the West’s political elites about how to create a stable and peaceful world. While the Xi-Biden meeting proved to break the ice, we still have a way to go before we experience a real thaw in the China-U.S. relationship.
The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden ahead of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia helped to tamp down some of the vitriolic rhetoric about China coming out of the U.S. in recent weeks and months, and has perhaps led to a significant lessening of the tensions between the two countries. In his introductory comments, President Xi took the high road in his comments on the role of the statesman. “A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world.” It is hoped that President Biden took these words to heart, but the general cordiality, even warmth, shown in the meeting between the two presidents, and President Biden’s respect for the Chinese leader, congratulating him on his re-election as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, was an encouraging sign in what had become a very troubled relationship.
And the cordiality was followed by concrete commitments by the U.S. President, almost covering all of the points that have troubled the Chinese leadership over the last couple of years. He said that a stable and prosperous China is in the interests of the United States and the world, and that the United States respects China’s system and does not seek to change it. In addition, the U.S. does not seek a new Cold War or revitalize alliances against China. He reiterated that the U.S. does not support “Taiwan independence” or the notion of “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” and it does not seek to decouple from China. Nor does the U.S. government seek to use the Taiwan issue as a tool to contain China, but hopes to see peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Many other issues were undoubtedly aired in this conversation which lasted more than three hours, even with simultaneous translations, and allowed both parties to fully express their concerns with the other side. According to reports, Xi gave a rather extensive account of the history of the Taiwan question in order to make it crystal clear to President Biden how important this issue was for the Chinese people, and called for a policy of mutual respect. Biden, according to the White House readout, while reiterating the usual U.S. accusations regarding alleged human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, and again insisting that the U.S. would continue as a tough “competitor” with China. He also indicated a clear understanding that this “competition” should not devolve into out-and-out conflict.
Most important was the decision by both parties to create a “framework” for their relationship which could serve to prevent the contentious issues from spinning out of control. This would also include maintaining a steady round of dialogues at various levels of government to keep things on a steady course as problems arise, as they no doubt will. President Biden has assigned Secretary of State Antony Blinken to travel to Beijing for follow-up discussions with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in order to work out such a framework.
The Bali summit has created a real breathing space for further dialogue between the two countries. China has previously experienced some disappointment before, when phone discussions between the two leaders seemed to create clarity on the major “hot button” issues, which were then followed by statements or actions by other government officials that then seemed to send a different message. Bali however was the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Joe Biden became the American president. Both leaders were well acquainted with each other from long periods they had spent together while in other posts, which created a certain degree of camaraderie that otherwise would have been absent. And the public attention on this meeting taking place on the sidelines of a major international conference attended by many world leaders, all of whom were focused on this all-important meeting at the beginning of their own deliberations, gives the decisions taken more transparency. All of this assures more confidence that agreements will be kept and not reversed by actions of lower-level officials.
The underlying tension, however, will continue to persist. The Biden Administration is fully intent on placing the U.S. in a leading role globally on all major issues, dreaming back to the days when the Soviet Union collapsed and the U.S. was alone at the summit of power – or so it appeared. But the world has changed and this view of a “unipolar world” is grating on many countries, including those allied with the United States. The declared U.S. intention to use the Ukraine crisis to reduce Russia in size and strength, while wildly popular among some of the countries in Eastern Europe, is causing other nations like Germany and France to have second thoughts about the wisdom of this policy.
More significantly, the tremendous suffering that has been caused by the punitive and increasing sanctions on Russia are leading to mass protests in many European countries and in places like Africa to outright hunger and starvation. In the larger world community, support for crisis in Ukraine has never been a popular item. And the difficulty of getting other countries outside the Euro zone to issue statements condemning Russia shows a lack of interest in the global community for pursuing this policy.
U.S. efforts to get China to criticize Russia are simply an exercise in futility. The never-ending expansion of NATO, a clear military alliance, to countries bordering Russia is clearly seen by China, and by most intelligent observers, as the reason for the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. If NATO were to expand to the Asia Pacific, this would serve as a real threat to China as well, in spite of presidential promises. So there is still much work to be done and some re-thinking needed among the West’s political elites about how to create a stable and peaceful world. While the Xi-Biden meeting proved to break the ice, we still have a way to go before we experience a real thaw in the China-U.S. relationship.