Xi-Biden Meeting in San Francisco: Navigating A Fragile US-China Relationship

Xi-Biden Meeting in San Francisco: Navigating A Fragile US-China Relationship

Xi-Biden met outside San Francisco at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation event. They had met exactly a year ago in Bali, Indonesia.

Prof. Avinash KolheUpdated: Sunday, November 19, 2023, 12:38 PM IST
article-image
Xi-Biden Meeting in San Francisco: Navigating A Fragile US-China Relationship |

The collapse on the USSR in 1991 changed the international order drastically and permanently. Before that USA took initiative in the early 1970s and befriended Mao’s China to checkmate the USSR. Now in 21st century, China and USA are competing with each other to influence the post-Corona world order. This is the broad context to comment on Xi-Biden recent meeting. They met outside San Francisco at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation event. They had met exactly a year ago in Bali, Indonesia. The US-China tensions have escalated over the last several years. The decline began with tariffs under the Trump administration and spilling over into broader tech restrictions under the Biden administration.

Controversy in early February about an alleged Chinese spy balloon flying in US airspace revealed how fragile their relations have become as the incident pushed the two countries to suspend already limited high-level talks. Sentiment, however began to improve over the summer after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken finally made a high-stakes visit to Beijing in June 2023, followed by visits from several other senior officials. Then in early October, US Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer and five other US senators representing both the Republican and Democratic parties had an 80 minute meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In March 2023, Xi clinched a third term as president when nearly 3,000 members of China’s parliament voted unanimously for him in an election in which there was no other candidate. This is precisely why Biden often calls Xi Jinping a dictator. He said this in June 2023 and said it again now. And he explained his comments, ‘Look. He is. He is a dictator in the sense that he’s guy who runs a country that is a communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours’. As expected, Biden comments invited sharp reactions from China. Despite this sparring, the meeting between Biden-Xi continued as both know the importance of discussions and meetings.

Xi is considered to be the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. He has been in power for a decade in which he has consolidated power in policy making and the military, and also stifling media freedom. Exactly a decade in October 2013, he has unveiled his most ambitious project the Belt and Road Initiative [BRI], though India has not joined in yet. Even USA is not on board. In California, Xi openly appealed Biden to take part in his pet BRI project. Xi is rather upset with the ‘India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor’ [IMEEC] that was launched on the sidelines of G20 Summit in New Delhi in September 2023. Xi also worried about the economic slowdown that has put him on the back foot. Chinese economy reeled under a prolonged slowdown with a flight of FDI. China’s recovery from the pandemic has been hampered by its growing debt and an ageing population, but it has also been affected by sanctions and US export controls for sensitive equipment.

India needs to watch US-China friendship and what it means for its interests. As the economies of these big two [G-2] affect almost all parts of the world, there is keen interest in the meeting of Biden and Xi. India needs to watch Sino-American collaboration in Asia. The honeymoon days of Sino-US friendship which impacted the world at the turn of the century, does not seem possible now. India needs to be alert as Xi has unleashed ‘charm offensive’ to woo back the big investors to China. Biden-Xi have agreed to renew high level political and military communication. This is viewed as a success. Even Xi has toned down his criticism of USA. He wants US to stop supporting ‘Taiwan’s independence’ while the US wants China to renounce use of force to unite Taiwan with the PRC. The US, while maintain diplomatic relations with China, follows a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ on Taiwan and it the island’s main source of weapons. 

Both have realized that they cannot turn their back on each other and must sit together and resolve the issues. Listen to what Xi has said in San Francisco [‘the world is big enough for both China and the US’] and his anxiousness to please US becomes apparent.

Biden has been in the saddle for the last three years. He has always insisted that while competing with China, care must be taken to ensure that dialogue too continues and their tensions, misunderstandings do not spin out of control. As of now, the three years of Biden’s leadership has managed to contain China, especially in Asia. It has entered into strategic partnerships with India and Vietnam. This indeed will make China uncomfortable. Not only US has QUAD, now it has a new forum AUKUS with Australia and the UK.

This does not mean that it is ‘advantage US’. It too has its plate full of worries, the main being Ukraine war. And now there is war in Gaza which does not seem to end soon. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on the territory since October 7 when the armed group Hamas led a surprise assault on Israel killing more than 1,200 people and taking more than 200 others captive. In Ukraine as well as in Gaza, US is a major player.

Many commentators and observers of international scene agree that both Xi and Biden have dialed back rancor to stabilize relations. Biden has sought Xi’s help in the two global conflicts. He pressed Xi to use China’s influence with Iran to urge Tehran and its proxies to prevent the war from expanding into a regional conflict. Similarly Biden would be very happy to see China urging Russia to end war in Ukraine. China will weigh its pros and cons and then oblige Biden. As on today, let us be happy with the fact that they began talking to each other.

(Avinash Kolhe is a retired Professor of Political Science based in Mumbai.)

RECENT STORIES

With Crucial Assembly Polls Nearing, LS Wary TMC 'Treading Cautiously'

With Crucial Assembly Polls Nearing,
LS Wary TMC 'Treading Cautiously'

Growing Violence In Schools – Is It A ‘Trend’ And What Can We Do About It?

Growing Violence In Schools – Is It A ‘Trend’ And What Can We Do About It?

Editorial: Israel Must Call Off The War

Editorial: Israel Must Call Off The War

Will The Alleged Nexus With Big Businessmen Hurt Politicians?

Will The Alleged Nexus With Big Businessmen Hurt Politicians?

Editorial: Pune Porsche Tragedy — Doctors Turn Criminals

Editorial: Pune Porsche Tragedy — Doctors Turn Criminals