Much Ado About The Presidents Meeting

Much Ado About The Presidents Meeting

The virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping.

tippinsights Editorial Board

The President of the United States met with the President of the People's Republic of China. There's precious little to show for such a high-profile meeting that lasted more than three hours. But that is no surprise. The Biden administration clearly stated ahead of the meeting that "no specific deliverables are expected."

It was a virtual meet, as President Xi Jinping has not left his country for close to two years now. Nor has he invited foreign heads of state to Beijing since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The U.S. did what is expected of it as a world leader and a democracy - made an overture. By proposing the meeting and keeping the channels of communication open, the American administration showed its willingness to engage constructively with a competitor and resolve rising tensions through dialogue. Calling for "common-sense guardrails to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended," President Biden spoke up for the world order and maintaining peace around the world.

Unlike the last time high-ranking officials of the two countries met in Alaska, in March, this meeting was cordial and "respectful." At least in front of the media, the leaders projected an air of friendship, reminiscing briefly about their many past encounters.

During the meeting, contentious issues were raised, and grievances aired. The chief matters discussed were Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, human rights, bilateral trade, and climate change. Neither side gave an inch on any topic of consequence. There were no "breakthroughs."

President Biden stuck by the preferred "strategic ambiguity" when it came to one of the most pressing issues – the sovereignty of Taiwan. Even as he reiterated America's commitment to the "one China" policy, he stated that the U.S. would abide by the Taiwan Relations Act and support Taiwan if Beijing attacked it.

On the day of the meeting, news agencies reported that six Chinese aircrafts had intruded on Taiwanese airspace. At the meeting, a resolute President Xi said, "There is but one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China." He further stated, "Should the separatist forces for Taiwan independence provoke us, force our hands or even cross the red line, we will be compelled to take resolute measures." Striking a somewhat conciliatory note, much to the relief of the international community, he added, "We have patience and will strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with utmost sincerity and efforts."

President Xi made every effort to show himself as an equal to President Biden, even saying that America and China "need to treat each other as equals." He cited "mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation" as the "three principles" that should guide cooperation between two countries. Riding high on his success at the CCP's plenum, the Chinese President boldly stated that "democracy is not mass produced with a uniform model" and "dismissing forms of democracy that are different from one's own is in itself undemocratic."

The timing of the meeting is noteworthy. President Xi is dealing with a shrinking economy, an aging population, and an increasingly competitive global market. Hence, he waited until he cemented his position within the Chinese Communist Party and further strengthened his prospects for an unprecedented third term before accepting President Biden's invite. At the recently concluded CCP's sixth plenum, a unanimously approved "historic resolution" elevated him to the stature of Mao Zedong. From such a strong position, President Xi stuck to his guns and refused to back down in the face of any criticism.

President Biden brought up "unfair trade and economic practices," China's "extraordinary" state support of its business enterprises, its industrial subsidies, and lenient attitude towards cyberspace attacks. His Chinese counterpart stressed that America should stop "suppressing" Chinese companies and their activities on American soil in the name of national security.

Once again, China referred to human rights violations as "internal" matters and refused to be goaded into toeing the line. Instead, the Chinese President chose to highlight climate change as an area of cooperation and expressed his willingness to work together on it.

President Biden, meanwhile, must have felt at a severe disadvantage. Despite close to a year in office, his country is deeply divided, the approval ratings have plunged, and the midterm elections loom large. With very little support from his people, unlike his Chinese counterpart, he found himself walking a tight rope.

But, as the world watched, the two leaders dialed back hostilities, taking the world away from what many considered 'the brink of war' in the Indo-Pacific. The strong security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, those long-standing and new-fashioned like the AUKUS, seem to have driven China to take a more diplomatic approach to its international interactions.

Actions speak louder than words.  It is best to keep an eye on China's actions and not go by its words alone.


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