Chinese President Xi Jinping held his first in-person meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden since the latter entered the White House about 22 months ago. The meeting, which reportedly lasted three hours, took place in Bali, Indonesia, on November 14. It allowed the two leaders to publicly state how they see one another as allies in the fight against some of the world's most pressing problems.
Biden used his public remarks at the opening of the meeting to highlight how climate change and global food insecurity have been two examples of how U.S.-China cooperation can aid the world. Xi spoke of the importance of furthering world peace and focusing on global development.
Xi also made a point about global development just a few weeks ago during the 20th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress. In his report to the congress, he reminded his audience inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and around the country that "to build a modern socialist country in all respects, we must, first and foremost, pursue high-quality development." He added that the development approach had to align with expanding a socialist market economy, committing to an opening-up philosophy and enriching the Chinese people and the global community.
The Belt and Road Initiative, a China-proposed initiative that aims to boost connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes, provides the greatest example of the country's dedication to global development. Some 150 nations from all parts of the world have signed onto this bold plan that has earned high marks from respected international agencies.
As just one example, the World Bank recently stated that transport projects associated with the initiative, if completed, “could reduce travel times along economic corridors by 12 percent, increase trade between 2.7 and 9.7 percent, increase income by up to 3.4 percent and lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty."
The aforementioned CPC National Congress concluded with the strong affirmation from the gathered delegates and the Chinese people that Xi has the country on the right path. China continues to raise economic prosperity at home and remains on track to becoming the world's largest economy.
In the days before meeting with the Chinese president, Biden insisted that the recent midterm elections in the United States confirmed that he, too, enjoyed strong domestic support. Prior to the elections, experts had predicted the Republicans would do well and were likely to take control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The way things stand now, it is likely the Republican Party has a majority in the House and the Democrats controls only the Senate.
The bitter reality is that America's electorate is as divided as ever, and Biden can count on support from most Democrats and from zero Republicans. Because of this political sclerosis, the country's longstanding problems relating to economic disparity, racism, gun violence and more are left unattended.
Looming on the horizon is the harsh winter season that could lead to another coronavirus wave working hand in hand with a potent flu; the potential to cripple the healthcare system is real. The warning signs are there, but Washington does not appear to be listening.
Biden will face resistance from Republicans on all policies, except one: attacking China. Nevertheless, he wants you to believe that his supporting political foundation is strong.
Speaking of criticizing China, the disastrous conversations between American and Chinese representatives in Alaska in March 2021 are nothing but a distant, bad memory today. Key Biden administration officials learned then that delivering public lectures to China about how Beijing should conduct its domestic and international affairs would be met with a powerful response. It appears the White House has learned that public rebukes will not shake China's determination to develop itself at home and to promote its win-win approach abroad.
Since that poor display of American diplomacy roughly 20 months ago, U.S. and Chinese officials have had multiple conversations. In addition, presidents Xi and Biden have had a couple of phone calls and video conferences. Those were important meetings, even if for no other reason than both leaders recognizing and validating the necessity of the U.S.-Chinese geopolitical relationship. But in-person meetings carry more weight; the conversation on November 14 provided no major breakthroughs, though none were expected.
The White House will spin the following narrative in the coming days: An emboldened Biden affirmed to Xi that the U.S. is ready to work with China, and China need not see the U.S. as a country committed to undermining it on the global stage. If you’re looking for a narrative that is closer to fact than fiction, then consider one along the lines of: The U.S. is domestically fractured and the 20th-century Washington Consensus promoted by Washington, D.C.-based international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and advocating privatization and trade liberalization, is antiquated. Countries large and small are looking to China to find a new model to enhance their own domestic economic stability.
Washington ought to be worried, but politicians there still spend too much time yelling at each other while banging the "China is dangerous" drum.
The author is an associate professor at the School of Informatics, Humanities and Social Sciences at Robert Morris University, the U.S.
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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