US-China: The Twain Shall Never Meet

US-China: The Twain Shall Never Meet

Both the US and China are unlikely to shift their domestic and global policies to accommodate each other’s concerns, though as most such meetings are supposed to bring down tensions the Biden-Xi summit too will yield something tangible.

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, November 20, 2023, 01:33 AM IST
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US-China: The Twain Shall Never Meet | @POTUS

The four-hour meeting between the leader of the most powerful country in the world and the one which is in the race to be one last week in San Francisco had aroused much hope but produced little by way of reconciling the deep-seated differences between them. Both the US and China are unlikely to shift their domestic and global policies to accommodate each other’s concerns, though as most such meetings are supposed to bring down tensions the Biden-Xi summit too will yield something tangible.

High Hopes, Limited Results: Outcome of Biden-Xi Summit

To begin with, there was the decision to resume military-to-military communications in order to prevent misunderstandings such as the near-miss between the Chinese and American warships in the contested international waters and earlier the ballyhoo over the Chinese spy balloon over the US. Failure to communicate could blow up such incidents into bigger conflagrations.

The communication lines were suspended following then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s much-publicised visit to Taiwan last year. Also, the Chinese agreed to seriously consider controlling the ingredients going into the manufacture of the deadly drug Fentanyl produced by the Mexican drug lords and smuggled into the US. Tens of thousands of Americans are said to fall victim to this relatively cheap synthetic opioid every year.

Deep-Rooted Differences: Unbridgeable Gulf

Apart from these agreements, nothing substantive emerged from the meeting of the two leaders in a year. On the sensitive Taiwan issue the position of the two leaders remained unchanged with the US again asserting itself against the forcible grab of the island by the People’s Liberation Army.

There was also no word on the US attempt to make China veer away from its ever-tightening embrace of Russia; neither did any inkling emerge that the US had managed to convince China to pressure North Korea to abandon its ever-threatening war games, including the not-so-clandestine replenishment of Russia’s fast depleting artillery ammunitions and other materials to aid its aggression against Ukraine.

However, as in all such high-profile events, the mere fact that the two leaders met in itself becomes a huge development. That the meeting failed to dissolve hardened positions became apparent when after it, Biden stuck to his earlier description of Xi as a dictator, a description which elicited a strong rebuttal from the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson. Biden’s Secretary of State Anthony Blinken sought to underplay his boss’s remarks, arguing that the Chinese system of government was different from that of the US.

APEC Summit: Rivalries on Display

Whichever way you look at it, the differences between the two superpowers are so deep-seated that they cannot be easily bridged. Even at the main event, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, the rivalries between the two were visible with each wooing the grouping of 21 countries to its point of view. The Chinese concerns about the US trying to contain it through various groupings of nations such as the Quad, comprising itself and India, Japan and Australia, and other such formations remained unaddressed.

Tellingly, Biden revealed that Xi had asked him during the course of the four-hour meeting why the US was so engaged in the Pacific, to which he replied, “because we are a Pacific nation… because of us there has been peace and security in the region, allowing you to grow…. to which he did not disagree”. What remained unsaid but was well understood by Xi was that had the US not been engaged in the Pacific, China would have intervened militarily to control the weaker nations in the region.

Thawing Relations and India's Position

Meanwhile, concerns expressed in certain quarters, that a thawing of relations between the US and China could implicitly hinder the developing close ties between India and some other Indo-Pacific countries wary of the aggressive China expansionism, were misplaced. Given the intrinsic differences between the two superpowers there can be no true common ground.

Simply put, the US will not easily yield its economic, military and technological superiority to accommodate China while the latter will not easily give up its feverish bid to replace the US as the most powerful nation in the world. Another cold war is underway and thanks to the Chinese folly India finds itself yielding slowly but steadily to the American embrace. Which is not such a bad thing after the wasteful decades of “Hindi-Russi and Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai”.

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