Xi And Biden Say The Right Things But Change Little

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with US President Joe Biden in Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 14, 2022. Photo credit: Xinhua/Li Xueren

THE MEETING BETWEEN Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia (seen int eh photo above) exceeded the low, very low expectations that had been set for it.

That is not to say that agreements of substance came out of it. They did not. Yet the right things were said on both sides so that the China-US relationship does not get any worse.

The ‘facts on the ground’ may yet prove to belie that. The meeting lasted some three hours, indicating the range of issues that divide the two powers — Taiwan, Ukraine, North Korea, Uighurs, Hong Kong. The list goes on.

That Biden was accompanied by his Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was another indication of how broad the range of economic, diplomatic and security areas in which the two countries are facing off has become.

The two sides’ readouts of the meeting make for illuminating comparisons. Most notably on the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

The US version said the two leaders agreed on the importance of not using nuclear weapons there, implying some divisions between China and Russia and that Biden had some leverage; the Chinese version said nothing on the matter.

However, separately, the Foreign Ministry says Beijing will increase, not decrease its relationship with Moscow. Yet, why wouldn’t it if a supply of needed raw materials is available at war-discounted prices? Undoubtedly, China would prefer peace to war, but a frozen conflict would be an acceptable status quo for it.

Xi also made it clear that Taiwan was China’s first red line. Biden restated that nothing had changed in regard to its One China policy, which is at odds with the increasingly supportive stance the United States is taking towards the island. When he gets home, Biden will be facing, in all likelihood, a Republican-controlled House of Representatives in 2023 and 2024 that is likely to be even more hawkish on China than the outgoing one.

The one consequence of the meeting is that there will be more dialogue between the two sides at senior official level. That will not in itself improve the tenor of the bilateral relationship but it may keep it from deteriorating and encourage some baby steps in confidence-building.

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