The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, their first face-to-face interaction since Biden took office in January 2021, is expected to take place on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, at least add a little “coolness”. to strain Sino-US relations.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bellicose scale in Taipei in July and then the abrupt release last month of the US National Security Strategy document days before the crucial 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, have already brought relations between the two countries to their lowest point.
Just a day before Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, Xi made a phone call to Biden and gave what was perhaps the strongest warning in his history that “the will of the people cannot be defied and those who play with fire they will perish for it. ”
Despite this, Pelosi went ahead with her pilgrimage to Taiwan with a clear message to the Chinese that the US will disrupt the Chinese economy by hindering the supply of semiconductors from Taiwan to China. Although China resorted to some ostensible sanctions against Taiwan and launched naval exercises around the Taiwan Strait, Biden was certain that Beijing would not go beyond such a benign protest of Pelosi’s visit.
His calculation was correct. Similarly, when the National Security Strategy was released on October 12, Xi’s reaction was expected to be limited to an aggressive tone toward Washington during the National Congress proceedings.
A cursory assessment of the oscillation in Sino-US relations over the past six months would show that a kind of pragmatism has gripped both sides, preventing them from resorting to any extreme steps despite deliberate mutual provocations. Both sides know their respective red lines very well.
Biden administration officials have already said there will be no joint statement and no agreements are expected during this brief meeting. So it will be more of a token ice breaker and get to know each other rather than a planned diplomatic interface.
Four issues are at the center of the bitterness between Washington and Beijing: the trade war, the Taiwan dilemma, the recent spate of North Korean missile test flights and the war in Ukraine. The only point where we can expect some moderation in his stance of Chinese support for Russia in the invasion of Ukraine. Compared with mounting anxiety in Beijing over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s prolonged misadventure in Ukraine, Xi may show some indifference to Russia during his meeting with Biden.
Beyond this, neither is likely to make any kind of concession, except on other contentious points. Yes, they are expected to discuss the contours of the framework of how to “manage responsibly” their competition and how to converge their efforts to work together where their mutual interests are aligned, especially on global issues affecting the international community, including climate change. , narcotics, pandemics, food insecurity and terrorism.
Biden is seeking more stable relations with Beijing despite tensions over Taiwan, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where Beijing has asserted historic property rights, and a host of other issues, including trade and human rights. But she finds it difficult to strike a balance between economic compulsions and America’s strategic intent.
Biden has played a key role in introducing the new “China threat” mantra into the new NATO narrative, as well as in the National Security Strategy (NSS) documents, a factor that will also prevent Xi from showing.” generosity” during the talks.
After winning the third consecutive term in the National Congress, Xi is in high voltage mode. On the other hand, Biden, emboldened by the positive result of the midterm elections in which Democrats thwarted an attack by Republicans under the leadership of former President Donald Trump, who is desperate to return in 2024, also knows well his own limitations. . like that of his Chinese counterpart.
He knows that Xi, who has an unprecedented grip on power in China, would not like to be pushed hard in their first meeting. “What I want to do with him when we talk is lay out what each of our red lines are and understand what he thinks is in China’s critical national interests, [and] what I know are the critical interests of the United States,” Biden said.
Sino-American ties have become so entwined in a complicated web of economic and strategic coercion on both sides, particularly after the Ukraine war that has exposed the West’s vulnerability to cheap energy supplies from Russia, which it cannot afford. Cold War-style friction in the global power fabric.
Given the recent rise in tensions and rhetoric, G20 members and other regional players such as India, Japan and Australia will closely monitor the tone and tenor of the Bali meeting.
Personal meetings usually bring positivity even in polarized and stressed situations. The same is true of the Xi-Biden encounter.
Imran Khalid is a freelance international affairs columnist based in Karachi, Pakistan.