Under President Joe Biden, China is no longer America’s potential “partner” but its “most formidable rival” globally. So, the goal of the virtual meeting between the two leaders was, at least for now, preventing the U.S.-China military conflict.
Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping spoke for about three hours on Monday evening. Their first meeting as leaders (in the past, they only met as vice presidents) was virtual. The U.S. president preferred to meet in person because he believes in the potential of personal contact, especially his own powers of persuasion. But Xi refused — he has not left China since the beginning of the pandemic; that is, for almost two years. As the pandemic continues to rage, this is likely the source of his concern.
Biden-Xi. There Is No Cold War Yet
We will find out later what actually resulted from this summit, because the White House has already announced that there will be no “final message” and warned not to expect much. U.S.-Chinese relations, still quite friendly a decade ago, cooled to the level of tension reminiscent of America’s conflict with the USSR. This is not yet a cold war because the Chinese, unlike the Soviet Union and its satellites, do not function as a quasi-autocratic economic system. Instead, their economy is open to the world and symbiotic with the American economy. However, China challenges the U.S. ideologically — it says its autocratic and one-party system is much better than Western democracy, and urges the countries of the poor South to follow its model. Simultaneously, China is mocking America by calling it a “declining” superpower.
This is an allusion not only to the fact that China is catching up with America economically. But America also has problems with democracy and is losing its soft power, while its 79-year-old (in a couple of days) president is declining in the polls. In the meantime, Xi is systematically strengthening his power. At the last session of the Chinese Communist Party, he was practically hailed a president for life because it is not permitted to criticize his leadership, and the nation is to study his “thought” as they once studied the thoughts of Chairman Mao Zedong. Under Biden, China is no longer America’s potential “partner” but its “most formidable rival” globally. This is diplomatic language. So-called average Americans increasingly see the Middle Kingdom as the “yellow peril.” Fifteen years ago, the majority had a favorable opinion of China; today, 73% express negative sentiments.
Taiwan under US Protection
The Red Dragon fell into disfavor with Americans in many ways. Its failure to abide by the rules of the World Trade Organization, to which it was admitted — its protectionism, intellectual property theft, lowering the exchange rate of its own currency — which resulted in the widening of the U.S. deficit in trade with China, has been going on for a long time. In addition, in recent years, there have been violations of the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong — even though it was supposed to be “one country, two systems” — and concealing responsibility for the pandemic outbreak. The expansion of its army, including the nuclear arsenal, can be viewed as a natural consequence of its growing economic power and development. But there is an increasing concern in the U.S. that this may be used for the forcible incorporation of Taiwan into China, regarded by Beijing as a province illegally detached from its motherland.
Therefore, Xi’s goal is to obtain assurances from Biden that he will remain faithful to the “One China” policy declared 42 years ago by Washington, understood by Beijing as acknowledging its right to incorporate Taiwan into China. In the 1979 agreement, the U.S. did not recognize Taiwan as an independent country and stated that the People’s Republic of China was “the sole legal Government of China.” However, it did not “recognize” but merely “acknowledged” its sovereignty over Taiwan — this is how the treaty with Beijing was formulated under President Jimmy Carter.
This lack of clarity is expressed in the “strategic ambiguity” doctrine, by which Taiwan is unable to proclaim independence unilaterally but which deters Beijing from its forcible incorporation. In practice, this means that it is not yet known what exactly the U.S. will do in the event of a Chinese invasion of the island. In any case, an act of Congress obliges the president to provide sufficient military assistance to defend Taiwan.
US-China. There Will Be No Thaw
The virtual meeting between Xi and Biden was to ensure that there would be no armed Chinese-American confrontation, at least in the foreseeable future. The summit’s goal was the stabilization of relations. Both superpowers want to prevent an accidental clash due to an unmanageable escalation of tension or a simple mistake. During the preparatory talks before the summit, it was established that the two could still find common ground, for instance, in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons or the fight against international terrorism. There were also declarations of joint actions to stop catastrophic climate change. After a period of heightened tension, like during the talks between the chief diplomatic officials of both countries in Alaska in March, where there was a public quarrel, Washington and Beijing are toning down their antagonistic rhetoric.
It is evident that neither China nor the U.S. want war. Only others would benefit from it; for example, Russia, interested in weakening America. Furthermore, a war in East Asia could also distract from Moscow’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine and the whole of Eastern Europe. Therefore, what Vladimir Putin says in his conversations with Xi is no less important and interesting than the U.S.-China summit.
In the press release that followed, the White House listed all the abovementioned points of the conflict between the countries as topics of conversation. It is clear, however, that understanding on any of the issues has not improved. There was even a sentence in the announcement suggesting that there would be no thaw in mutual relations: “[The U.S.] strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”