Biden and Xi meet to prevent their countries' rivalry from “leading to confrontation” | International
The presidents of the United States, Joe Biden, and of China, Xi Jinping, have displayed harmony and a conciliatory spirit as they begin their long-awaited summit this Wednesday in a mansion on the outskirts of San Francisco. In a marked turn in a more than icy relationship over the last nine months, the leader of the Asian giant has assured that both countries must be able to overcome their differences. The American has underlined his country's interest in preventing the rivalry of the two world giants "from leading to confrontation."
“Conflict and confrontation would have unbearable consequences for both countries,” the Chinese president said with a smile, sitting in front of Biden. On either side of the two presidents, a long cast of advisors, in dark suits, contemplated them solemnly. Two large flags of the respective countries presided over the room. The tenant of the White House stressed, for his part: “We have not always agreed, which is not a surprise to anyone, but our meetings have always been frank, direct and useful.”
Parked, at least for the moment, were the abysmal differences on issues such as human rights, the situation in Taiwan, control of the South China Sea or technological competition. All of them issues that were going to be addressed, such as the war between Israel and Hamas or the conflict in Ukraine, during the meeting hours scheduled for this Wednesday.
Both had greeted each other upon arrival at the Filoli residence with a handshake, without making any statements to the press. The meeting is key: China arrives with a weakened economy; United States, under pressure from conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.
The purpose of the meeting is to prevent the rivalry between the United States and China, the two great world economic powers, from “turning into a confrontation,” insisted a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity with journalists accompanying the American president in his visit to San Francisco for the summit with Xi and the annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC).
It is the first time that the two leaders have maintained direct contact since they met face to face in November 2022 in Bali (Indonesia) during the G-20 summit. Then they agreed to take steps to reinforce the weakened trust between the two countries and relaunch the most important bilateral relationship in the world, adrift since the Administration of then-President Donald Trump and Beijing imposed tariffs on tens of billions of dollars of products from their respective countries in 2018.
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Delicate and intense diplomatic choreography
The incident of the Chinese hot air balloon that crossed the territory of the United States last February before being shot down canceled those good intentions for months. Achieving the meeting has required a diplomatic choreography as delicate as it is intense: meetings of the respective national security advisors in Vienna and Malta, trips of the secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to Beijing and reciprocal visits to Washington and San Francisco by senior Chinese officials. . Meanwhile, Biden and Xi still did not even maintain telephone contact.
After greetings in the gardens of the historic Filoli mansion, a 264-hectare estate in Woodside, 40 kilometers from San Francisco, the two leaders plan to hold a series of meetings alone and with their teams of advisors, as well as a lunch of work. At the end of the meeting, Biden will hold a press conference at 4:15 p.m. local time (1:15 p.m. on Thursday in Spanish peninsular time) alone.
The two presidents are not expected to publish a joint statement: their positions are too far apart on all types of issues. But various agreements could emerge. Washington places its hopes on achieving a pact to reestablish direct communications between the respective armies, something it considers essential to prevent any of the numerous clashes between its patrols in the vicinity of Taiwan or the South China Sea from leading to a crisis with serious consequences. The talks have been interrupted since the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited Taiwan in August 2022 on a trip that unleashed the anger of Beijing.
“It is a key objective of President Biden,” the senior official has indicated. “We want to see political dialogues at the highest level, and for commanders to have dialogues on operations in the Indo-Pacific.”
In addition, “other areas of dialogue in the economic and commercial areas, and on technology, will be important,” which will continue beyond the summit in San Francisco Bay. Both countries already issued a statement on Tuesday night to increase cooperation in the fight against climate change, one of the major areas in which Washington and Beijing – the world's main emitters – share interests.
But the White House warns against setting expectations too high. “There is a clear recognition that the context is different” and that the summits of now – and those that may come in the future – are no longer like those of a few years ago, in which success was measured by the number of agreements signed. Although these agreements, in many cases, were never implemented. Now, “the context of the United States-China relationship is one of competition. And, therefore, what we are taking are steps to prevent competition from turning into confrontation, something that the president has made very clear and that is in the interest of the United States, its partners and allies.”
Both leaders also address the situation of Taiwan, the island with a democratic regime that China considers part of its territory and which does not renounce unification through military means. Taiwan holds elections in January and Beijing prefers a victory for the conservative Kuomintang, more in favor of good relations with the other side of the strait. I would contemplate with horror a triumph of the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP), in government for the last eight years and which has maintained an increasingly distant relationship with Xi's Executive. At the same time, President Tsai Ing Wen has maintained increasingly close ties with Washington.
Neutrality in elections
Beijing aspires to obtain some type of American guarantee on its neutrality in these elections. Washington, in contrast, maintains: “We will make clear our determination to support Taiwanese democracy, we will celebrate that it is an important achievement and one in which we have great confidence.”
“[Biden] will underscore our continued commitment to stability. “We believe that a strong unofficial American relationship with Taiwan is in our interest, and it is something that will continue.” The United States broke its diplomatic relations with the island when it officially established them with Beijing in 1979, but maintains them informally.
The American president will also ask his Chinese counterpart to convey a message to Iran, the great antagonist of the United States in the Middle East and with which Beijing maintains good relations. According to the White House, Biden will tell Xi that it is “essential” that Tehran avoid actions that could expand the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. Any step by the Islamic regime in this regard would receive a “strong response” from the United States.
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