Saturday, September 30, 2023

What to expect when Joe Biden and Xi Jinping meet in Indonesia?

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For the first time as president, Joe Biden will meet President Xi Jinping in person on Monday at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and the expectations couldn’t be lower.

Biden arrives after recently fueling the economic war against China, with: tensions over Taiwan high, and much of Congress is behind this more bellicose stance. Washington’s bipartisan neighborhoods have largely internalized a hawkish image of China that sees the country as an emerging power against which the US must win, which is exactly what winning means. A series of escalating measures has led some on the Chinese side to feel that the US policy of containment is back. The Biden administration has in many ways doubled down on former President Donald Trump’s approach to countering China. What was missing is an affirmative vision of what “winning” against China would look like.

Meanwhile, Xi is leaving China after, until recently, the pandemic confined him to its borders. He has just further consolidated power into a third term after the Chinese Communist Party Congress last month.

The two have talked on Zoom for the past two years and had met extensively during the Obama years. But for their first face-to-face meeting, the White House has raised remarkably low expectations. It is unlikely that there will be a joint statement. “I don’t think you should see this meeting as a meeting to announce specific results,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Thursday.

Instead, Biden said he wants to explain “what each of our red lines are, understand what he believes are China’s critical national interests, what I know the United States’ critical interests are, and to determine whether whether or not they conflict with each other.”

The meeting includes the accentuated series of tensions that now shape the US-China relationship — and the lack of firm targets for the confab suggests how important it is to maintain the current balance of power, no matter how tenuous it may be. Détente, let alone a new conception of stable and productive relationships, still seems a long way off.

“To make a point, it’s an inflection point, because the relationship is at a point where it could go down very, very quickly,” said Evan Medeiros, a Georgetown professor who served on President’s National Security Council. Barack Obama. “The competition between the US and China has something from the 1950s.”

Could the Biden-Xi meeting help calm tensions?

For Biden, whose foreign policy prospects are heavily shaped by personalities and personal relationships with world leaders, the Xi meeting could be an opportunity. Have few heads of state saved so many hours meet the Chinese leader.

But tensions between the US and China are decidedly higher than when Xi and Biden first met as then vice presidents of each of their countries.

The dangers have especially peaked around US policy towards Taiwan. In addition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the democratic island nation that China claims as its own, Biden has said four times that the US would defend Taiwan if China invaded it, contrary to the US’s stated policy of strategic ambiguity. Earlier this week, a senior official of the Ministry of Defence stressed that US policy towards China has not changed and there have been no new developments in the way the US sees Taiwan among its longstanding”A China” policy.

Medeiros says the “sloppy way” the Biden administration has followed will complicate Taiwan’s policy on this visit. “They are statements and actions by the State Department and statements by the DOD,” he told me. “The Chinese are less concerned about the Americans coming to the defense of Taiwan and more that the US is trying to move away from the One China policy and, as a result, give Taiwan greater incentive to move in that direction.”

One concern is that by focusing on countering China’s influence, the US is ultimately trying to outside China China, according to Cornell political scientist Jessica Chen Weiss. She has warned of the US reflecting China’s actions and thereby falling into the trap of zero-sum competition, such as overly protective economic measures, anti-Asian hate speech and intense militaristic rhetoric. Those tactics are ultimately harmful to American interests.

“While both governments have tried to prevent direct military escalation, recent statements and actions by both sides have contributed to the action-reaction cycle that has put the two countries on a collision course, particularly over Taiwan,” said Weiss, who recently spent a year in the State Department, told me in an email. “In this context, their first face-to-face meeting represents an important opportunity to stabilize the escalating spiral in US-China relations, although such efforts will take time to bear visible fruit.”

The background dynamics, outside US policy focused on: Eliminate China’s technical prowess further increasing competition is a world in which American power is changing. The war in Ukraine has revealed the remarkable depth of US alliances in Europe and Asia, while at the same time highlighting the US’s borders as a unilateral superpower and its tense influence in the emerging nonaligned countries of the South. As Biden attends both the G20 meeting and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, it is worth emphasizing that the era of the US as the indispensable nation, in the coin of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, is history. Today, the US is more dependent than ever on alliances and cooperation.

Keeping channels of communication and negotiation open between two world powers is a good in itself. But experts warn that little will likely come out of the top.

“There are more and more issues that the United States and China just can’t agree on,” said Tyler Jost, a professor who studies China’s foreign policy at Brown University. “As such, you can try to put in a series of relief valves or safety nets that try to control the stress, but the fundamental stress is pretty tight and the structural reasons behind it haven’t changed.”

Coming from the UN’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt, where Biden warned of “climate hell” if the US and its partners don’t come together, there is an urgency to advance dialogue with China on planetary issues that face so-called strategic competition. .

As CIA Director Bill Burns said this summer: “The People’s Republic of China is the greatest geopolitical challenge our country faces in the 21st century, as far as I can see, [and] the greatest existential threat in many ways is climate change.”

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