The timing of President Biden’s request for a virtual meeting with President Xi at this point is moot.
The meeting was undoubtedly preceded by initial contacts between the two sides, including the G20 summit in Rome end-October and the October 6 meeting between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and the Chinese Communist Party’s top foreign officials.
The Score Card, According To Chinese Read-Out
Each side has voiced its concerns publicly, and there have been sharp differences between them. Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong have been issues of respect for the US, expressing concern about drone attacks, economic coercion of allies, China’s conduct in the East and the South China Sea, among other issues.
As we saw at the Alaska meeting between Blinken and Yang Jiechi in March, all these accusations and complaints have been stingingly dismissed by the Chinese side. Given the open challenge by China to the US power across geographies and domains, finding ground, defusing tensions, and stabilizing ties would not have appeared easy or even feasible.
The vice president seems eager to hold this meeting to set guardrails to prevent the relations from deteriorating. China is already in a weaker position psychologically due to the US, a more substantial power, showing more nervousness and looking for a modus vivendi.
Chinese interpretation: America is not interested in engaging in conflict with China, especially after Afghanistan, since it wants to rebuild its internal strength and allies to go up against China.
After strengthening ties with partners and reinvigorating relations with China, Biden, Blinken, and others have publicly mentioned going into meetings with China with a more substantial hand. The virtual conference of November 15/16 shows Xi Jinping is unimpressed with this.
A Replay Of Alaska Summit
The Meeting of Blinken and Yang Jiechi in March was essentially a repeat of that meeting. As we know now, Yang’s hit-back was on Xi’s instructions, and he was repeating Xi’s thoughts.
In the face of the US challenge, Xi has leveraged this exchange to consolidate his leadership domestically, bolster his image as an experienced leader and give confidence to the Chinese people.
Accordingly, the Chinese read-out of the talks was 2770 words long instead of 426 words for the White House. He was mainly speaking to domestic audiences, not to international ones.
Putting the ball in President Obama’s court to resolve differences, he defined the principles that Americans must abide by for stabilizing relations, all while speaking from a position of strength and confidence.
As a result of the tension, China hasn’t accepted responsibility in any way. The situation has all been caused by America, and it is America’s responsibility to remedy it. A humbled America is listening to Emperor Xi of the Middle Kingdom.
Biden spoke about managing competition between the US and China responsibly, standing up for the interests and values of the US, and ensuring the rules of the road alongside allies and partners.
His remarks addressed China’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, its unfair trade, and economic policies. He also stated his opposition to unilateral efforts to change Taiwan’s status quo as a democratic nation.
In addition, he stressed the need for guardrails to ensure that competition does not degenerate into conflict and to manage strategic risks. Biden’s thinking is unclear as to why he believed that conveying this message so often would change China’s behaviour if repeated in private and made public again.
Xi’s Warning To Biden
As the readout shows, Biden did not leave a lasting impression on Xi and continued on his self-righteous path. For the next 50 years, Xi appears to envision a China-US G2. Biden is expected to demonstrate a commitment to pragmatism and reason in American China policy.
China is unlikely to make any course corrections. As is customary with China, Xi laid out general principles to guide China-US relations to avoid concrete exchanges, buy time, and avoid confrontation. China can interpret these as reasonable because they are always vague.
The Chinese leader gives the world three principles: Respect for core interests and major concerns, keeping differences under control, peaceful coexistence, a throwback to Cold War jargon, and win-win cooperation, a misguided strategy long out of date.
Chinese President Xi Jinping listed four priority areas: accepting that few problems can be solved without China-US cooperation; promoting shared interests in the areas of the economy, energy, mil-to-military, law enforcement, science, and technology, cyber, and environmental protection; the US should work to resolve differences with China with prudence as China will defend its sovereignty, security, and development (the US is expected to act responsibly); work together to safeguard a fair and equitable global order.
Xi asked Biden to demonstrate that he was not seeking a new Cold War through concrete actions. Asserting risibly that “aggression or hegemony is not in the blood of the Chinese nation”, Xi warned Biden that any attempts to stop China’s rise would be rejected, saying he would sacrifice his well-being for the people”.
This proves to be Xi’s depth of pretence and political chicanery and his uncompromising spirit.
China’s president has amusingly declared that ecological conservation has become a household concept in spite of the environmental destruction of Tibet. By cautioning against politicizing diseases, he avoided the issue of further WHO investigation into the origins of Covid-19.
Chinese press reports wanted to clarify to the Chinese public that Xi had obtained favourable commitments from the US without conceding anything. Hence, they cited Biden as saying the US had no intention of changing China’s system. US alliances were not meant to be anti-China, the US had no choice of conflict with China, and Biden reaffirmed the One China policy.
Despite opposing Taiwan’s independence, the US was willing to work with China based on mutual respect and peaceful coexistence and increase communication, deal with misperceptions and resolve differences in a constructive way. Briefly, Xi scored ten points, and Biden scored 0.
It raises the question of whether Biden received what he was hoping for from this meeting, even if this is an exaggeration. According to Xi, the US and other countries are fooled into believing that containing him is the only way forward.
edited and proofread by nikita sharma