It is debatable how timely it was for President Biden to have insisted on a virtual meeting with President Xi at this point. What he hoped to realistically achieve is unclear, knowing the assumptions behind Xi’s policies, consolidating his power internally with his status elevated to that of Mao and Deng at the recent CCP plenum. and the virtual assurance of a third term for him as president in next year’s Party Congress and, on the other hand, as others can see, the weakening of America’s position in the outside after the debacle in Afghanistan and inside with a polarized country, a divided Democratic Party and Biden’s own declining popularity in the polls.
Biden did not engage Xi from a position of strength despite steps taken to build transatlantic unity, restore confidence with allies in Asia, signal greater political, diplomatic and military openness in Taiwan, strategically strengthen the maritime power of the Australia thanks to the AUKUS defense pact with Australia and the United Kingdom and a desire for “extreme competition” with China.
The meeting was undoubtedly preceded by preparatory contacts between the two sides, the most recent having been between Secretary of State Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the G20 meeting in Rome in late October and the meeting. between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi, foreign affairs chief of the Chinese Communist Party in Zurich, on October 6.
The issues that concern both sides have been publicly expressed by them, and the differences have been open and clear. The United States has spoken out on human rights and freedoms in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, expressing concerns about cyber attacks, economic coercion from allies, China’s conduct in China seas eastern and southern and across the Taiwan Strait, technology theft, unfair trade practices and refusal to cooperate with the WHO to identify the origins of Covid-19, etc. All of these accusations and complaints were scathingly dismissed by the Chinese side, as we saw at the Alaskan meeting in March of this year between Blinken and Yang Jiechi. At first glance, finding common ground, defusing tensions and stabilizing ties wouldn’t have seemed easy or even possible given China’s open challenge to US power across geographies and domains.
A replay of the Alaska summit
Still, Biden seemed to want to hold this meeting to establish safeguards to prevent relationships from escalating into conflict. For the United States, as the stronger power, to be more nervous about potential conflict and seek a modus vivendi already puts it in a psychologically weaker position vis-à-vis China. The Chinese would read America’s lack of appetite to come into conflict with China, especially after Afghanistan and the time needed to rebuild America’s internal strength and alliances to confront Beijing. Biden, Blinken and others have publicly referred to having meetings with China with strengthened hands after reinvigorating ties with allies, etc. This did not impress Xi Jinping as shown by the virtual meeting on November 15 and 16.
In essence, this meeting was a replay of the Blinken-Yang Jiechi meeting in March. It’s now even clearer that Yang was mirroring Xi’s thinking and his approach to retaliation was instructional. Xi used this exchange to further consolidate his leadership in his country, strengthen his image as a strong man and instill confidence at the national level that he can steer China towards its manifest destiny in the face of the American challenge.
This explains why, compared to the White House reading of 426 words of the talks, the Chinese reading was 2,770 words. Xi was primarily addressing his national audience, not the international community. He wanted to show he was addressing the American leader from a position of trust and strength, speaking at a high level to give advice on how relationships should be managed, putting the ball squarely in his court to resolve disputes, explained to him the principles the United States must adhere to in order to stabilize ties. It was not accepted that China was responsible in any way for the tensions that arose. It’s all America’s fault and it’s America’s job to turn it around. It is Emperor Xi of the Middle Kingdom speaking to a humiliated America.
Biden, in the American reading, spoke of handling U.S.-Chinese competition responsibly, standing up for her interests and values, and keeping the rules of the road with her allies and partners. He spoke about China’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, its unfair trade and economic policies, the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific, freedom of navigation and overflight, and while remaining committed to a “One China” policy and other agreements. with China, expressed strong opposition to unilateral efforts to change the status quo in Taiwan. He stressed the importance of strategic risk management and the need for common sense safeguards to ensure that competition does not degenerate into conflict. It is not clear why Biden thought this message that was publicly conveyed to China several times earlier would change his conduct when it was reiterated in private and made public again.
Xi’s warning to Biden
Reading from China shows that Biden made little impression on Xi and did not dissuade him from taking his chosen path, with self-righteousness. Xi seems to believe in a Sino-American G2 for the next 50 years. The responsibility for managing the relationship rests with the United States, with Xi patronizingly hoping that Biden “will show political leadership and return China’s US policy to reason and pragmatism.” No course correction is obviously required by China.
As usual with China, to avoid concrete exchanges, save time and obscure issues, Xi set out general principles that should guide Sino-US relations. These are still vague and can be interpreted by China as appropriate. Xi sets out three principles: the first, mutual respect, which means respecting each other’s fundamental interests and major concerns (this is what the Chinese unilaterally describe), keeping differences under control; two, peaceful coexistence, a return to Cold War vocabulary; and third, win-win cooperation, a tired and now meaningless formula.
Xi identified four priority areas: one, the acceptance that few problems can be solved without China-US cooperation, an invitation to the United States to join China’s global initiatives (BRI?); second, to promote common interests in the fields of economics, energy, mil-to-mil, law enforcement, education, science and technology, cyberspace and environmental protection. In other words, normalize relations without any change in China’s policies on the assumption that the US complaints in some of these areas are unfounded; third, the United States should handle disputes with China cautiously, as China will defend its sovereignty, security and development (the responsibility for good behavior lies with the United States); fourth, to work together to safeguard a just and equitable world order. Xi wanted Biden to prove with concrete actions that he was not seeking a new Cold War.
Xi warned Biden that the rise of China was an inevitable trend in history and that any attempt to stop it would be rejected, dramatically adding that he would sacrifice his own well-being to meet people’s expectations and , further, laughably asserting that “aggression or hegemony is not in the blood of the Chinese nation”, and that since the founding of the People’s Republic “China has never started a single war or a single conflict, and never took an inch of land from other countries. ”This shows the depth of Xi’s sham and political bickering, and his uncompromising spirit, which has a lesson for India. and all the others with which China has territorial or maritime differences.
Regarding Taiwan, he warned that the measures taken by the Taiwanese authorities and “the intention of some Americans to use Taiwan to contain China … are extremely dangerous, as is playing with fire” and that those who play will be burnt. He claimed that Taiwan was part of China and full reunification would be pursued and if the red lines were crossed, China would be forced to take resolute action.
He mocked Biden about democracy, which he said was not mass produced with a uniform pattern for everyone, adding that rejecting forms of democracy different from his was inherently undemocratic. On trade relations, he cautioned against politicizing economic and trade issues, calling on the United States to stop abusing the concept of national security to suppress Chinese companies. Against the backdrop of Tibet’s environmental destruction, Xi amusedly declaimed that ecological conservation has become a domestic concept in China. He bypassed the issue of new WHO investigations into the origins of Covid-19 by warning against the politicization of disease.
To show the Chinese public that Xi had secured favorable commitments from the United States without any concessions, the Chinese reading quoted Biden as saying that the United States was not seeking to change the Chinese system, the revitalization of its alliances was not. anti-Chinese, the United States had no intention of having a conflict with China, and that Biden reaffirmed the one-China policy, that the United States did not support Taiwan’s independence, and that ‘They were ready to work with China on the basis of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, improve communication, work to reduce misperceptions and deal with differences constructively.
In short, the scorecard according to the Chinese reading was Xi 10 and Biden 0. Even if that’s an exaggeration, it still raises the question of whether Biden got what he might have hoped for from this encounter. It appears Xi is overplaying his hand and convincing the United States and others that containing him is the only option going forward.
The author is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
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