Creating Space in the US and China: Joe Biden and Xi Jinping at a Meet-Night Security Summit in Indonesia
When Joe Biden and Xi Jinping first got to know each other more than 10 years ago, the US and China had been moving closer for three decades despite their differences.
While on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, the leaders of two countries met face-to-face. They discussed war in Ukraine, military tension in the Taiwan Strait, and missile tests in North Korea.
While the Democrats were projected to keep the Senate, Biden was in Asia after his party performed better than expected in the US election. Biden voiced confidence that the results could allow him to face with a stronger hand. “I know I’m coming in stronger,” he told reporters.
While Beijing has yet to confirm Xi’s side of the conversation, China’s consummation of a new friendship with Moscow just before the invasion of Ukraine caused alarm in the West. And as top US and Russian officials met in Turkey on Monday, partly about the nuclear issue, the signals coming out of the Xi-Biden talks could be an important indication of restraint from Beijing to Moscow and a diplomatic win for Washington.
Expectations are low for the meeting. Locked in an intensifying great power rivalry, the US and China disagree with each other on just about every major issue, from Taiwan, the war in Ukraine, North Korea, the transfer of technology to the shape of the world order.
A senior White House official said Thursday Biden wants to use the talks to “build a floor” for the relationship – in other words, to prevent it from free falling into open conflict. The main objective of the sit-down is not about reaching agreements or deliverables – the two leaders will not release any joint statement afterward – but about gaining a better understanding of each other’s priorities and reducing misconceptions, according to the US official.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan reinforced the message Saturday to reporters aboard Air Force One, noting the meeting is unlikely to result in any major breakthroughs or dramatic shifts in the relationship.
U.S. officials share this relative optimism. “The fact of a leaders’ meeting coming together has created space in the Chinese system, for reopening what we believe to just be simply ongoing work between our side to get things done,” a senior administration official told reporters before the meeting.
“The Chinese believe the US goal is to keep China down so we can contain it. And the US believes China’s goal is to make the world safer for authoritarian states, push the US out of Asia and weaken its alliance system,” said Scott Kennedy, senior adviser in Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
Each side blames the other for the situation at hand, and each believes that they are doing better than the other, according to Kennedy, who recently returned from a weeks long visit to China.
“The Chinese think they’re winning, the Americans think they’re winning, and so they’re willing to bear these costs. Kennedy said that the other side is unlikely to make any significant changes. There is a reduction in the likelihood of significant adjustments.
The fact that the two leaders are talking in person is a positive development, experts say. Dialogue is important for reducing risks of misunderstanding and miscalculations when suspicions run deep and tensions are high.
Direct communication is more important now that Xi has just secured a third term in office with a tighter grip on power than ever, and a chance to rule for life. “There is no one else in their system who can really communicate authoritatively other than Xi Jinping,” national security adviser Sullivan said.
After the talks, Biden said that he did not find the other party more conciliatory. I found him the way he’s always been: Direct and straightforward. … We were very clear with one another when we disagreed or didn’t know what our position was.
“I would love to be a fly on the wall to see that conversation because I don’t think that the US or China has been very precise about what its red lines are. Kennedy, of CSIS said that both sides have not been very clear on what rewards the other side would get if it stayed within the red lines.
Perhaps no American President has angered Beijing over Taiwan more than Biden, who has said on multiple occasions that the US will defend the island in the event of a Chinese invasion. Each time, his aids have rushed to walk back his remarks and denied any changes in the US’ “One China” policy.
The US is accused by China of hollowing out the “one China” policy. Beijing’s anger reached a boiling point in August, when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brushed aside its stern warnings and landed in Taipei for a high-profile visit.
China responded by launching large scale military exercises around Taiwan that formed an effective blockade; it also halted dialogue with the US in a number of areas, from military, climate change and cross-border crime to drug trafficking.
Now the two leaders are sitting down in the same room – a result of weeks of intensive discussions between the two sides – Taiwan is widely expected to top their agenda. barbs have already been traded in a sign that the issue is contentious.
Sullivan plans to brief Taiwan about the talks with the aim of making them feel like they’re secure and comfortable with US support.
But to the surprise of many, the meeting featured televised images of smiling officials, handshakes, and a commitment to reopening lines of communication on urgent global issues. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had sparred with his Chinese counterparts at the 2021 summit in Alaska, is now expected to visit China next year.
Experts in the US and China say some progress on greater communication and access between the two countries will already be considered a positive outcome – such as restoring suspended climate and military talks.
The summit in Indonesia yielded two important outcomes, according to the US: A joint position that Russia must not use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine and an expected resumption of talks on climate between American and Chinese negotiators, a boost for the COP 27 global climate conference in Egypt.
Biden, meanwhile, reported that he stressed to Xi that Beijing also has an obligation to temper North Korea’s destabilizing missile and nuclear activity that has the Pacific region on edge.
Leon Panetta, who has dealt with US-China relations for decades, expressed cautious optimism after the talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
“If the result of this meeting is to put the relationship back on a more diplomatic plane, in which instead of beating each other up they can begin a dialogue on the kind of issues that need to be dealt with, I think this meeting could very well be pivotal,” Panetta told CNN’s John King on “Inside Politics.”
The Xi-Biden Summit in Washington: A full circle in the foreign policy of the United States and of the Cold War between Beijing and Moscow
“Neither side should try to remold the other in one’s own image or seek to change or even subvert the other’s system,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
So, Washington’s foreign policy has come full circle, since part of Richard Nixon’s motivation in engaging China during the 1970s Cold War deep freeze was to open strategic gaps between Beijing and Moscow.
China and Russia have reversed a dynamic between Beijing and Moscow which had been global power and junior partner.
Since Biden became president, the two have had no face-to-face interaction. Analysts say that it happened after the two leaders had made political gains at home.
Speaking after the three-hour meeting, Biden described it as an “open and candid” discussion, saying he planned to manage the China relationship “responsibly.”
The meeting on Monday will not resolve any substantial grievances both sides have had against each other but will slow down the deterioration of their relations, warns Yu.
The State Department said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also visit China in person sometime early next year to follow up on the Xi-Biden meeting.
From Beijing’s perspective, the U.S. has since done the opposite on all counts. It has imposed export restrictions on some of China’s leading technology firms.
Xi met the US: Why does China want to invade Taiwan? Beijing and the U.S. need to work together for the stability of the world, China says
“The world is big enough for the two countries to develop themselves and prosper together,” tweeted Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson who accompanied Xi in his meeting with Biden.
Despite intense media speculation, Biden stated he did not think there was an imminent attempt by China to invade Taiwan.
The president was not in favor of the Chinese actions around Taiwan in the waters, which he said undermined the stability and prosperity of the region.
China is also paying close attention. Xi recently appointed a new slate of top military leaders from China’s Eastern Theater Command, which encompasses Taiwan, indicating that going forward, the island is a priority for China’s fighting forces. Last week, he urged his military to “fight to the end.”
The analysts say that China appeared to be caught off guard by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Beijing has called repeatedly for a peaceful, negotiated end to the war.
According to the White House, the presidents of China and the US agreed at their meeting that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The Chinese readout included no mention of nuclear weapons.
Last year, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi put out three core demands — “bottom lines” — that China wanted the U.S. to agree to in order for relations to improve: to not get in the way in the country’s development, to respect China’s claims over places like Taiwan and to respect Beijing’s Communist Party rule.
Beijing – Washington Connection: The U.S. economy in the G20 meeting meeting stronger ties in the Chinese–Hong Kong economy
In the G20, Biden came in with a stronger position, but he is up for reelection in two years.
The meeting could lead to strong ties between the world’s top economic powerhouses. Stock markets in mainland China and Hong Kong were buoyed as a result, with technology giants such as Alibaba
(BABA) and Tencent (TCEHY) soaring on Tuesday.
Neil Thomas, senior analyst for China and Northeast Asia at Eurasia Group, said the goal of the meeting was to “build a floor” under declining relations between Beijing and Washington.
Ken Cheung, chief Asian foreign exchange strategist at the bank, said the meeting was a positive sign that the two sides want to find common ground.
The Hang Seng index climbed 4% on Tuesday and is on track to record a third straight day of gains. Since last Thursday, when the new policy shift towards gradual reopening of borders and a sweeping rescue package for the property sector was announced, the index has soared more than 10%.
After being hammered by a regulatory crack down at home and heightened tensions abroad, Chinese technology shares led markets higher on Tuesday. In Hong Kong, the shares of Alibaba shot up by 11 percent while they were up 10 percent in China.
Biden’s reiteration of the US position on Taiwan and its “One China” policy was helpful, they said, as was Xi speaking out against the use of nuclear weapons by Russia.
A Conversation with Yang-Mills on the New Face of Diplomacy in Beijing and Washington, D.C.: After his G20 Summit, Qin said: “Today is the change in Beijing’s foreign ministry”
“This was far more progress than we, or indeed most commentators had expected, and dominates what may otherwise turn out to have been a fairly irrelevant G20 summit,” the ING analysts said.
The appointment came as Beijing’s relations with Washington are starting to show strain over a number of issues. He replaced Wang Yi, 69, who was promoted to the politburo of the ruling Communist Party in October, and is expected to continue to work in foreign policy.
After he finished his job at the Beijing headquarters of the ministry, he went to work in the Protocol Department where he was in charge of arranging meetings with world leaders. In 2018, he was appointed as a vice minister before assuming the role of Chinese ambassador to the U.S. in the summer of 2021.
In an interview, Qin spoke about his thinking on diplomacy. Diplomacy is very complex and systematic. It can be hard with some softness, or soft with some hardness,” he said. “It can also be both hard and soft. The two may become one when time and situation change.
The new face of diplomacy in China has a lot to do, according to the Stimson Center director of the China Program in Washington, D.C.
When asked by a foreigner in 2008 about Guns N’ Roses’ album “Chinese Democracy,” which Chinese state media described as a “venomous attack on the nation,” Qin said that many people don’t like this kind of music. He said that he was expecting you to be a mature adult.
The university wrote on its website that when Qin was promoted to a vice minister, he was clear-cut and straight-faced in his attitude.
After joining China’s foreign ministry in 1988, Qin was first assigned to work for the Beijing bureau of the United Press International, a U.S. news agency, on a short stint. Non- Chinese news outlets weren’t allowed to directly hire Chinese nationals at the time and had to assign local employees.
Later, as a diplomat, he cultivated a specialization in Western European affairs, serving twice in the Chinese embassy in London in the 2000s – first, as a third and second secretary, and later as a minister.
Qin’s short stint as Beijing’s top diplomat in the U.S. saw him traveling across the country, visiting farmers and chatting with Elon Musk. When he arrived in Washington, he told reporters that “the door of China-U.S. relations, which are already open, cannot be closed.”
Mr. Biden has been accused of being too slow to respond to the Chinese spy balloon as it meandered across the United States, but he was chided for overreacting to the subsequent objects that appear to be relatively harmless.
The president defended his actions, saying he waited to shoot down the spy balloon until it was safely over water while later taking down the others without knowing what they were “out of an abundance of caution.” He said he has ordered his administration to develop “sharper rules” to respond to future intrusions in American airspace.
There has been increased tension between the US and China since February 4th when a Chinese balloon was shot down.
How helpful will a meeting between Beijing and Beijing be in stabilizing bilateral relations after the Beijing-Wang blundering balloon incident?
The meeting will take place in Germany where both are attending a security conference, according to a source who was not authorized to speak to the media.
Beijing claims the balloon was for scientific research and that shooting it down was a violation of international practice.
It’s unclear how helpful a meeting between Blinken and Wang will be in stabilizing bilateral relations, given that both sides have dug in their heels on the balloon.
On Friday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the U.S. could not seek dialogue while at the same time taking steps to deepen the crisis, a possible reference to sanctions the U.S. imposed on six Chinese companies in response to the balloon incident.