Biden, Xi, and Their Red Lines

The conflicts between Washington and Beijing remain. But it is important to keep the lines of communication open. The presidents have at least achieved that.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and especially the very particular Chinese way of dealing with this problem in China, have had a very negative effect on international politics for almost three years.

The Chinese party leader and head of state is pushing his country into withdrawal from the rest of the world. This was symbolized by Xi Jinping’s isolation because of the spread of the virus. The Chinese leader continued meeting with partners via videoconference. But there is no real substitute for person-to-person meetings.

The American president sees things that way, too. Joe Biden thus emphasized the value of a bilateral meeting with Xi before the Group of 20 summit. No one expected that the American and Chinese disagreements — which threaten to deteriorate into tangible conflicts — would disappear. The important thing is keeping the lines of communication open to avoid potentially consequential misunderstandings.

Message for Putin

The heads of state each indicated where their “red lines” are. Respecting them, however, assumes readiness for pragmatic solutions. That could prove difficult.

China wants to be treated with respect. There is nothing to disagree with there. But the problem is that “respect” in this case means subordination to Xi’s China. This is especially the case for Taiwan, which supposedly belongs to the People’s Republic but whose population absolutely does not want to be “brought home.”

Another pressing problem is the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. On the one hand, Xi and Biden’s message for Vladimir Putin is clear: a nuclear war must never happen. On the other hand, Xi apparently still believes that it is in China’s interest to support Russia. That is correct in one respect. Putin is in the process of turning his country into a raw materials colony of China. But if he manages to push the world into utter chaos, a China that is striving for ‘”stability” would be among the losers as well.

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