Tag Archives: Joe Biden

Xi And Biden May Talk As China-US Relations Stay Tense

ANOTHER CHAT BETWEEN Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden is reportedly in the offing as the United States mulls easing Trump-era tariffs on Chinese imports of solar panels and household goods like washing machines and bicycles.

Helping to suppress domestic inflation appears to be more of a motivation for easing tariffs than improving China-US relations. If anything, US attitudes towards Beijing are hardening.

There is also a division of opinion within Biden’s economic team over tariff easing. Trade officials argue for the retention of tariffs to give the US leverage in trade discussions.

Tariffs on steel and aluminium will likely stay regardless, and while tariffs make goods more expensive for US consumers, lifting them will not make much of a dent in US inflation. However, Biden will undoubtedly be considering, if he does ease sanctions, what he can extract from Xi in return.

Rising tensions over Taiwan are complicating the issue. A particular point is Chinese officials repeated assertions to US counterparts of late that the Taiwan Strait is not international waters. While that stops short of saying the strait is an internal waterway, it still implies that US warships should not be freely sailing through it as they have been doing around once a month.

Update: Taiwan’s defence ministry said that the PLA Air Force flew 29 warplanes including six H-6 bombers towards the island’s airspace, its third-largest such sortie this year, after Washington rejected Beijing’s suggestions that the Taiwan Strait was not international waters.

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Xi And Biden Seek To Right The Listing Ships

Chinese state media picture of Beijing end of video meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart, Joe Biden, on November 16, 2021

THE CHUMMY XI-BIDEN video summit on Tuesday morning (Monday evening US time) softens the tone of the China-US relationship but does not much change the substance.

Given the fractious nature of the bilateral relationship of late, that is a significant change and reflects both sides’ wish — and need — not to let it get further out of hand. In that, the video meeting represented a welcome step back from the risk of unwanted ‘hot’ conflict.

Xi likened the relationship to two giant ocean-going ships that needed a steady hand on the tiller to avoid a collision.

However, he also repeated the long-standing demands that Washington treat Beijing as an equal on the world stage, stop impeding its development, stop treating trade as a national security issue and not interfere in China’s internal affairs, notably Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

‘[Xi] highlighted mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation as three principles in developing China-U.S. relations in the new era’, according to state media.

Sticking to that agenda suggests that Xi thinks China is getting results with it, and that the United States is changing tack, if not necessarily course.

He will need to ensure that perception inside China is sustained in the run-up to next year’s party congress, but also make sure that the narrative of structural US decline that has taken wide hold does not threaten the stable management of the bilateral relationship. That is a necessary backdrop if he is to deal with the other pressing issues confronting China’s development.

The readouts from both sides on Taiwan will be scrutinised for nuance.

The US side said Biden affirmed the ‘One-China policy’ but ‘strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Xi blamed deteriorating relations across the Straits on ‘repeated attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for US support for their independence agenda as well as the intention of some Americans to use Taiwan to contain China.’

Xi said China would be patient over reunification but warned that it would be compelled to take ‘resolute measures’, should the ‘separatist forces for “Taiwan independence” provoke us, force our hands or even cross the red line’.

Both leaders were talking as much to their domestic constituencies as to each other, as the human rights issues highlighted by Biden are all those on which Xi will not make concessions.

However, by freezing conflict on them, both leaders can appear principled while easing relations in other areas, notably through cooperation on climate issues and some compromises over trade and investment.

We have already seen some working-level meetings between officials and are likely to see more following the Xi-Biden video meeting.

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Xi And Biden ‘Summit’ Will Herald More Bilateral Dialogue

THE XIE ZHENHUA-JOHN KERRY announcement that China and the United States have agreed to set up a joint working group to advance their intent to co-operate on climate mitigation appears to be a prequel of other ‘dialogues’ between the two countries expected to be announced after President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart, Joe Biden, have their long-awaited video ‘summit’ early next week. 

Their video call is reportedly scheduled for Tuesday morning (Monday evening in Washington). It was brokered last month at a meeting in Zurich between China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi and US national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Working-level discussions on the details and agenda have been underway since. 

It will be only the third direct discussion between the two leaders since Biden took office in January and the first since September. However, Biden often speaks publically about meetings with Xi when he was vice-president. In the ordinary course of events, the two men would have been expected to meet in person at the recent G20 leaders meeting and the COP26 climate summit now drawing to a close in Glasgow. 

That it is taking place is an indication that US-China relations, while far from repaired, have at least stopped falling apart, and that, from Beijing’s point of view, the United States has made sufficient effort to ‘correct its errors’ by fulfilling at least some of the demands delivered by Yang in a speech in late January, and in expanded list form at the stormy meeting between top officials from both sides in Alaska in March.

While the Biden administration has moved on some of the specific demands, such as ending the extradition proceedings against Huawei Technology’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, it has not budged significantly on Beijing’s big-picture demands that:

  • the United States ceases to look at China as an adversary or even as a strategic competitor;
  • Washington restores normal engagement, exchanges, communication and cooperation;
  • the United States does not meddle in China’s internal affairs, i.e., Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet;
  • Washington co-operates with Beijing’s global initiatives on issues such as climate change, post Covid-19 economic recovery and global public health; and 
  • the United States stops politicising trade and regarding it as a matter of national security.

Meeting these would have returned Washington’s position to where it was prior to the Trump administration. That is not going to happen.

ff anything, the Biden administration is continuing its predecessor’s policies towards Beijing, albeit sometimes passively, by just letting processes already in train when it took office run their course. 

His administration is divided internally over how hard it should press China. These divisions cross many fault lines within the president’s Democratic party, not just between human rights and trade and investment issues, but also between human rights and climate mitigation, and defence spending and diplomacy. These are divisions that will not be easily bridged.

Expectations for the outcome of the meeting are accordingly low. Both leaders have domestic concerns that mean they both need to manage the competition between the two countries to avoid undue shocks or surprises but to do so in a way that puts an upbeat spin on the stalemate in so many areas without sounding weak to domestic and global audiences.

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Biden And Xi Agree To Virtual Meeting That Might Be Called A Summit

WHAT TURNS A video call between two presidents into a summit meeting, beyond the label that gets slapped on it?

We may find out later this year now a ‘virtual bilateral meeting’ between President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden has been agreed in principle during a meeting in Switzerland between Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Biden had pushed for an in-person meeting when he talked to Xi on the phone earlier this year. Xi, who has not travelled outside China since before the Covid-19 pandemic started, demurred.

The virtual compromise appears to reward Biden’s efforts to restore bilateral relations to a less confrontational posture, although he has not strayed far from the tough line on China taken by his predecessor.

However, the US president has softened the tone and made several de-escalatory gestures, most publically dropping an extradition request for Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

The Switzerland meeting appears to have been more constructive than one in Alaska in March involving the two officials, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his US counterpart, Antony Blinken. That quickly degenerated into a shouting match.

This time around, while Yang repeated Beijing’s demand that Washington respects China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and Sullivan raised the US’ standing concerns about Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, there was at least discussion, even if conducted in terms diplomats describe as ‘candid’.

That is still far from an improvement in relations. Beijing still holds to its line that it is Washington’s responsibility to get the relationship back on track as it is US policies that have derailed it.

Yet, agreement to a set-piece meeting, albeit virtual, indicates a desire on the part of both leaders for relations not to deteriorate further, which would not serve the interest of either leader as they cope with significant domestic challenges.

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Xi And Biden Jaw-Jaw

PRESIDENT XI JINPING has had a 90-minute phone conversation with US President Joe Biden, only the second direct discussion between the two leaders since Biden took office and the first for seven months.

The Chinese readout on the call is more forthright than the United States’, implying that Xi told Biden that it was Washington’s responsibility to get the bilateral relationship back on track as it was US policy, driven by anxiety over China, that had escalated tensions. The White House version said both leaders had discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.

State media commentary on the call, which the United States initiated, reiterated the familiar line that Washington should take more action in correcting previous wrong deeds and respecting China’s interests, and not expecting China to cooperate while keeping it as an adversary.

However, news bulletins gave the conversation with Biden less prominence than Xi’s address to the BRICS summit.

The wide range of points of contention between the two countries, from human rights to trade, will not be resolved in a single call. However, the two leaders talking is a sign of some progress towards halting the deterioration in relations after the acerbic and unproductive talks between lower-level officials earlier this year.

These may now be able to resume.

The call may also prove to be a. preparatory step towards an in-person meeting between the two leaders, who met when Xi visited the United States in 2012 when Biden was vice-president, reciprocating Biden’s visit to China the year before.

There has been some hope that that meeting could occur during the G20 summit in Italy next month. However, Xi, who has not left China since visiting Myanmar in January 2020 when the global Covid-19 pandemic took hold, may attend the summit virtually.

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Biden Twist Throws Beijing For A Loop

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S unpredictable relationship with China has taken an unexpected turn even by his mercurial standards.

Facing an impeachment inquiry by the US Congress in connection with allegations that he pressed the president of Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, for corruption, Trump has doubled down by urging China to do the same.

One of Trump’s (unsubstantiated) allegations is that the elder Biden was ‘probably’ responsible for Beijing’s ’sweetheart’ trade relationship with the United States because the younger Biden had received what Trump said was $1.5 billion for being on the board of a Chinese private equity company.

The kernel of the allegation is an official two-day visit Biden senior made to China in 2013 when he was President Barack Obama’s vice-president. During the visit, Hunter Biden, who had accompanied his father, met Jonathan Li. Li’s Bohai Capital and Rosemont Seneca Partners, a firm founded by Hunter Biden and the stepson of former US Secretary of State John Kerry, jointly created the private equity fund Bohai Harvest RST (BHR).

Hunter Biden was reportedly an unpaid advisory board member of BHR, rather than a main board director as Trump implied, although this remains unclear. A Biden spokesman said that the figure of $1.5 billion was false. (It is probable that derives from the capital the fund sought to raise.) However, Biden does appear to have become a 10% equity investor in the fund some two years after his father left office. As such, he may not yet have received any payout.

It is not unknown for Chinese companies to court the families of high-ranking officials, either their own or those of foreign governments. In that light, the younger Biden has attracted the criticism of Republicans before for his involvement with Li.

Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Finance Committee in the US Senate, raised concerns about the Obama administration’s approval of US automotive technology company Henniges being acquired for $600 million by state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and BHR. Grassley also asserts that in 2015 another Chinese-government linked entity, Gemini Investments, acquired a 75% stake in Rosemont Realty, a sister company of Rosemont Seneca. Gemini Rosemont invested in US real estate.

US media are reporting that Trump raised Biden in a call with President Xi Jinping in June (the same one in which Trump reportedly said he would not raise the unrest in Hong Kong in order not to derail US-China trade talks). What the two presidents discussed about Biden is not known. The US transcript of their conversation was put into the same highly secure electronic storage system used to conceal, as Trump’s critics would have it, the transcript of his call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

This will all be extraordinarily perplexing and uncomfortable for Beijing, which will not want to be seen to be interfering in the domestic politics of a foreign government.

Next week, US-China trade talks are due to resume in Washington. The Biden twist throws another tangle into that knotted negotiation.

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