Xi-Biden meeting sends positive signal but hard nuts will need to be cracked
By Ma Miaomiao  ·  2022-11-18  ·   Source: NO.47 NOVEMBER 24, 2022


Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with U.S. President Joe Biden in Bali, Indonesia, on November 14 (XINHUA)   

The current state of China-U.S. relations does not support the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples and is not what the international community expects, Chinese President Xi Jinping said while talking with his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden ahead of the Group of 20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on November 14. 

During their face-to-face meeting, the two top leaders conducted a candid and in-depth exchange of opinions on a wide range of issues concerning bilateral ties and global priorities as the world watched.

With the conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and the midterm elections in the U.S., the two countries have both completed their major domestic agendas for the year. Zhang Jiadong, a professor with the Center for American Studies at Shanghai-based Fudan University, said that the time spent together would help both understand each other's latest policy arrangements.

"As many people worry the tense Sino-American status quo may lead the world into a confrontation between two camps and turn globalization into fragmentation, the meeting has in fact sent a positive signal," Wang Yiwei, Director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China, told Beijing Review.

A clear signal 

"The positive thing is that the Xi-Biden meeting took place. These men haven't met in person since Biden was vice president during Barack Obama's presidency (2009-17)," Josef Gregory Mahoney, a professor of politics and international relations at East China Normal University, wrote on his LinkedIn account. "There's just so much more that can be gained from meeting in person instead of online," he added.

"Under the current circumstances, China and the U.S. share more, not fewer, common interests, and it is in both sides' mutual and fundamental interest to prevent conflict and confrontation and achieve peaceful coexistence," Xi said, adding the two economies are deeply integrated and both face new tasks in development.

Take trade as an example, even under the mixed impact of COVID-19 and additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese exports, two-way trade topped $750 billion in 2021 and two-way investment reached $240 billion.

China and the U.S. need to have a sense of responsibility for history, for the world and for the people, explore the right way to get along with each other in the new era, put the relationship on the right course, and bring it back to the track of healthy and stable growth to the benefit of the two countries and the world as a whole, Xi said.

For his part, Biden said the U.S. side is committed to keeping the channels of communication open between the two presidents and at all levels of government, so as to allow candid conversations on issues where the two sides disagree and to strengthen necessary cooperation and play a key role in addressing climate change, food security and other important global challenges, which is vitally important to the two countries and peoples, and the world at large.

Democrats appeared to have staved off a Republican "red wave" as the dust settled from the U.S. midterm elections on November 8, but the results indicate that with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, the Biden administration will encounter roadblocks in pursuing its domestic political agenda. It may turn its attention abroad and do more to deal with China-U.S. relations, Jia Qingguo, a professor at Peking University's School of International Studies, said during a webinar discussing the U.S. midterm elections and the future of China-U.S. relations on November 11.

For the U.S., it is important to manage competition with China if it wishes to bring bilateral relations back to the track of sound and stable development, Zhang explained, adding that as both seek stability, this may have a positive impact on multiple sectors.

Jia added that Biden, who possesses rich political expertise and is more pragmatic, may change some of the hardline policies introduced during Donald Trump's presidency and cooperate with China on climate change and a better management of bilateral ties, particularly trade issues.

Questions remain 

The meeting kicked off a "bridge-building effort," former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in his virtual remarks to the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore on November 15, before lamenting there is still a long way to go to avoid conflict between the world's largest economies.

"Can Biden do more than talk the talk? Does he want to turn the corner and seek common ground in lieu of advancing an already faltering containment strategy? The meeting was a positive step, but no indication of real change," Mahoney told Beijing Review.

The two leaders reached agreement on issues such as climate change, food security and public health. However, these are important but not fundamental bilateral issues of economic cooperation and building a peaceful world, David Blair, a senior economist at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank, told Beijing Review.

"The continuing conflict in these fundamental areas could do a lot of damage to the world, so I hope the two nations can build genuinely friendly relations," Blair said, adding it's unfortunate that influential elites in the U.S. have a vested interest in continuing animosities [with China].

One example is that after Republicans regain a majority in the House of Representatives and if Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who has publicly said he would "love to" go to China's Taiwan, becomes House Speaker, tensions over Taiwan may escalate again, Zhu Feng, Dean of the Institute of International Relations under Nanjing University, cautioned.

The Taiwan question has become even more complicated as many analysts in the U.S. are linking it with the hi-tech competition between China and the U.S., Zhong Feiteng, a researcher with the National Institute of International Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said to The Beijing News.

Mahoney also shared further concerns as he believes no real breakthroughs were made during the top leaders' meeting in Bali. The two sides made no announcement of a resumption of bilateral talks on climate change or military-to-military communication—two issues that are baselines for mitigating dangers associated with potentially existential threats. "Although no breakthrough on the [U.S.-initiated] trade war was expected, many still listened for one and heard nothing," he added.

"We hope commercial issues will be on the agenda when cabinet-level officials from both countries hold further discussions," Craig Allen, President of the U.S.-China Business Council, which represents more than 280 U.S. companies doing business in and with China, told China Daily.

The U.S. State Department confirmed at a news conference on November 14 that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China in early 2023. U.S. media reported the trip aims to keep the lines of communication open and exchanges about important issues at senior levels in order to avoid conflict.

(Print Edition Title: Looking to the Future)  

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson    

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