Wednesday’s meeting between President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping went as well as anyone could have expected. That is to say, the leaders of the world’s two most powerful countries didn’t resolve any of their major disputes, but they reactivated diplomatic ties — which had been moribund for nearly a year — and scored some political bonanzas. Who will help them at home.
The most significant outcome of the session was the resumption of communications between US and Chinese military officials – and not just between top generals. but also theater commander, These channels—which China closed more than a year ago—will allow both sides to manage crises more carefully and make conflict less likely to start due to misperceptions.
The political goodies had to do with hot topics in both countries – drugs and trade. As Biden said at a press conference after their meeting, Xi would “significantly reduce” China’s exports of fentanyl, which is the leading source of death among Americans ages 18 to 49 and a major issue in many US electoral districts. Is. Xi agreed a few years ago to cut off the flow of the drug, but continued to ship precursor chemicals that can be used in many products. In this meeting, Xi said that he would also make drastic cuts in his predecessors.
For his part, Xi was allowed to go straight from the meeting to a dinner with more than 300 US business officials – part of his drive to revive foreign investment in China, which is at its lowest level in a quarter century. Is. The outflow of Western capital is one cause of China’s current economic slowdown – which Xi wants to reverse. One reason for investors’ withdrawal is China’s increasing aggression towards its neighbors in the Pacific region and Western businesses inside China.
Xi was therefore keen to show a friendly face. At the business dinner – which included top executives from Apple, Bridgewater, Citadel Securities and other corporate giants that have done business in China and in most cases still do – he stressed, “China needs to be a partner and friend. Ready for.” Of America.”
In fact, Xi agreed to meet with Biden in an additional session during this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco — not only to prevent rising U.S.-China tensions from spiraling out of control but also to protect China’s economy. Even deeper to protect against any recession.
In the weeks before the summit, China’s state news media, which last year had portrayed the United States as a treacherous enemy, changed dramatically, and portrayed the US, its leaders, and its people in a remarkably positive manner. Portrayed as. Even glowing-terms.
Amidst this situation, Biden had to step in with some hesitation. On the one hand, eager to defuse tensions, especially with all the other conflicts around the world, he was happy to accommodate Xi’s transition, regardless of its intentions. He called their conversation – which lasted an astonishing four hours – “some of the most productive and constructive discussions we have had”.
Yet, at the same time, bipartisan majorities in Congress and a majority of Americans in opinion polls have a negative view of China. The House recently formed a special committee to investigate, and largely condemn, the numerous misdeeds of the Chinese Communist Party. (Its president, Rep. Mike Gallagher, described Wednesday night’s business dinner with Xi as “unconscionable.”)
And so Biden could not lean too much in Xi’s direction. Asked by a reporter if he had confidence in Xi to follow through on the fentanyl agreement, Biden responded, “Trust but verify, as the old saying goes” – a nod to the post-Cold War relationship with Soviet reform. Leader Mikhail Gorbachev quoting former President Ronald Reagan’s line during his early reconciliation meetings.
As Biden was walking away from the podium, he was asked if he still considered Xi a dictator. “Look, he is,” Biden replied. “He is a dictator in the sense that he is a person who runs a country that is a communist country based on a completely different form of government than ours.” In June, when Biden called Xi a dictator during a news interview, Chinese media reacted with outrage. This time, not so much. A State Department spokesperson called the comments “grossly inaccurate and irresponsible political manipulation,” but did not mention Biden by name. Clearly, at least for now, Xi does not want to tarnish the superpower’s cordial message.
On major issues, Biden candidly acknowledged that he and Xi only “exchanged views” on Russia’s war in Ukraine, the conflict in Gaza and China’s unfair trade practices, human rights record and aggressive tactics in the South China Sea. Did. No one expected any progress to be made on these fronts, and expectations were met.
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At the same time, Biden also said he reassured Xi that the US still respects the “one China” policy and does not regard Taiwan as an “independent” country – although he also said it does not recognize Taiwan for self-defense. Will continue to provide weapons. No change here also.
On more positive aspects, both sides agreed to accelerate steps to combat climate change, with China also agreeing to reduce carbon emissions for the first time. They also said they would create teams of experts to discuss ways to regulate and control artificial intelligence. Biden said in his press conference that further talks on all issues would be held soon with various diplomatic teams. Biden and Xi also agreed that they should call each other directly to resolve any ambiguity or deal with any crisis. Until this week, the two leaders had not spoken to each other in person or over the phone for a year.
Whatever the intentions, this was the main achievement of this meeting: the world’s two most powerful countries—their leaders, diplomatic corps and military officers—are talking again. After more than a year of rising tensions, against the backdrop of divergent interests but also some common interests, this is a welcome development.