What Card Is Xi Most Worried about Biden Playing?

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is not happy with President Joe Biden playing the “Iran card,” nor is he pleased with the “North Korea card,” not to mention the “Taiwan card.” But right now he is most concerned about Biden playing the “Russia card.”

The reason? First, Xi does not care that Biden is playing the “Iran card” because Beijing and Tehran are hard-core allies, and China has only recently signed a 50-year deal to buy crude oil from Iran.

Second, Xi is not afraid of Biden playing the “North Korea card” because not only does Pyongyang rely heavily on Beijing’s economic assistance, but North Korea’s nuclear and missile development have also been supported to a certain extent by mainland China.

Third, although Xi is not happy with Biden playing the “Taiwan card,” Beijing is reassured by the fact that Biden’s play of the “Taiwan card” is still within control, not violating the “One-China policy,” and that Biden has not publicly stated that the U.S. is returning to strategic ambiguity.

Fourth, Russia is the most important country in the 16-nation alliance* led by mainland China. Once relations between Moscow and Washington improve, giving a higher position for Russia between the U.S. and China than it currently occupies, China may have to pay a very high price to keep Russia in the Beijing-dominated alliance.

Fifth, Russia has always considered itself a Western or European nation that is similar to the West or Europe in terms of history, culture, civilization, human development, music, art and religion — and far from being like China.

Sixth, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Communist Party in 1991 became the most important event of the 20th century. This alone is a striking difference between Russia and mainland China.

Seventh, not only has Russia abandoned communism, but more importantly, it has universal suffrage and a democratically elected president chosen by universal suffrage. Although Russia now has elections, the United States and other democracies do not consider Russia to be a democracy.

Last, Russia is indeed not yet a truly democratic nation. Interestingly, during the recent U.N. meeting of foreign ministers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was dismissive toward Biden’s proposed “Democracy Summit,” and criticized the U.S. for holding a Democracy Summit that would only cause a split in multilateralism. In actuality, Lavrov’s intention was likely to get Russian President Vladimir Putin invited to participate in the summit.

If President Biden can make a big breakthrough and make an exception to invite Putin to the Democracy Summit, it may not only subtly influence the Kremlin to promote real democratization, but would also change the current strategic triangle among the U.S., Russia and China.

*Editor’s Note: The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is a 16-nation trade pact that includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations along with China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

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