Joe Biden and Xi Jinping have very different views on many things. But now at least they agree to have a proper conversation.
- On Monday, US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will meet digitally, the White House confirmed.
- The two have had brief talks earlier this year, but this will be the first proper summit.
- The meeting takes place on video, mainly because Xi Jinping does not want to travel abroad.
- The relationship between the two great powers has been bitter in recent years. The summit could be an opportunity to create a slightly better atmosphere.
It began with a proper sermon.
Joe Biden had been president for two months. To initiate a dialogue with the Chinese authorities, he sent Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Anchorage, Alaska. There he was to meet his Chinese colleague.
Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, took the opportunity to give a 16-minute lecture in which he massacred US foreign policy.
The flash was visibly out of the picture. Yang’s tirade was a surprise. But the message from the top Chinese diplomat was clear: China’s leaders appear to be full of confidence. And they know that the United States is weakened by the pandemic and strong political unrest.
Eight months later, Biden will finally meet with China’s leader Xi Jinping for a summit. It will be a golden opportunity to make the relationship a little better again.
Why haven’t they seen each other before?
Biden and Xi know each other quite well. They have met many times before Biden became president. When Xi traveled the United States in 2012, he was with Biden as a tour guide and travel companion.
But as president, Biden hasn’t had a proper conversation with Xi so far. They have had a few relatively short phone calls, one in February and one in September, but not a proper summit.
The pandemic is a major cause. The bad relationship is another. They both probably wanted to find a way out of the bad trend before they could get together for a proper conversation.
Why don’t they meet face to face?
Once again, the pandemic is a major cause. World leaders travel less than before. But few travel as little as Xi Jinping. In fact, he hasn’t been abroad since January 2020, just before the world realized the severity of the virus outbreak in Wuhan.
The Americans have expressed that they would rather have a physical meeting with Xi, as Biden did with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Switzerland in June. But Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, says a video conference with Xi is “the second best solution.”
How do Americans view China?
In recent years, the view of China, both in the United States and in other Western countries, has drastically deteriorated. The mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang and the strict new security law in Hong Kong are two of the reasons. The military escalation in the South China Sea, especially in the area around Taiwan, is another.
Several Western countries, as well as the NATO defense alliance, now view China as a greater security risk than before. The belief that the Chinese should develop a democratic society has been replaced by the fear that China’s authoritarian model of society will spread to other countries.
67 percent of Americans now have one negative view of China, according to the Pew Research Foundation.
And what do the Chinese think of the United States?
It is difficult to find good polls in a dictatorship like China. But there is little doubt that America’s vision has deteriorated in recent years. One exam from the Eurasia Group Foundation this summer shows that more than half of Chinese have a negative view of the United States, and state media often write very negatively about American foreign policy and internal unrest.
What are the main problems in the relationship?
If you have to reduce it to one thing, it is about who will rule the world in the future. China is the second largest economy in the world and the largest trading partner of more than 100 countries. Beijing leaders clearly show that they want greater global influence. It’s hard to avoid it being at the expense of the existing rulers, the United States in the first place.
Biden talks a lot about one “International order governed by rules”. Xi, on the other hand, is concerned about “Suverenitet”, that is, the right to self-determination. These two kingly thoughts are opposed to each other.
What can come out of the meeting?
Expectations are low. The most important thing is that the meeting takes place. But Wednesday’s news that China and the United States will cooperate on the climate front is seen as a sign that relations are on the right track.
The United States and China need each other to solve the climate crisis and emerge from the pandemic as soon as possible. It helps as motivation to create a more pleasant tone.
Some small advances may be announced, such as an agreement for countries to start talking about nuclear weapons. Signs of less friction in trade between countries can also be a result.
What will not happen at the meeting?
Xi and Biden will not agree on any of the main contentious issues. So there is little reason to expect an announcement about Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Huawei, customs barriers, or the origin of the coronavirus.
But can there be any surprises?
If they come, it’s probably Joe Biden. He is known for shedding the script. Among other things, he said earlier this fall that the United States will defend Taiwan if China attacks. If he says something like that again in the meeting with Xi, it could create waves.