Manaksha Memon looks at an eventful summit
After plenty of Biden-Xi meeting & saber rattling the Americans and Chinese finally agreed to come on to the negotiating table as both realised that the stakes have gone high in wake of the lengthening Russia-Ukraine conflict that has brought in its wake an unprecedented global inflation. President Xi in the meanwhile has consolidated his grip on power after getting elected for an unprecedented third term as head of the country and removing all hurdles to his exercise of power. Biden though is fast getting constrained in his efforts as the chief executive and there are growing concerns that he may end up as one-term president and he wants to do something to jack up his waning popularity and some kind of breakthrough in international affairs may contribute to it.
In this context, Biden and Xi Jinping held a three-hour, high-stakes meeting in Bali, Indonesia aimed at avoiding conflict between both the countries that were arrayed against each other since sometime. Biden subsequently confirmed that he believed that there was no need of a new Cold War between America and China as they were prepared to sort out matters through parleys. The encounter was Biden’s most consequential during a week-long foreign trip, as the two countries have collided on trade, the war in Ukraine and economic and military threats amid fears that the US-China relationship could devolve into a Cold War of sorts. Biden added that he did not believe a Chinese attack on Taiwan was imminent stressing that the United States and China would compete vigorously but were not looking for conflict. He mentioned that secretary Blinken would undertake a follow-up trip to Beijing to sort out matters further.
Despite the upbeat public statements, both countries are increasingly suspicious of each other with the United States fearing that China has stepped up a timeline for seizing Taiwan. US officials said ahead of the meeting that Biden hoped to set up guardrails in the relationship with China and to assess how to avoid red lines that could push the world’s two largest economies into conflict. There is hardly any doubt that the most sensitive issue is Taiwan, the self-governing democracy claimed by China which is also an extremely sore point for Xi as he has evoked China’s glory as the cornerstone of his rule and has emphasised the use of force to attain this goal if need be. He has time and again repeated given instructions to the Chinese military to remain prepared for action. In this respect the United States has been stepping up support for Taiwan, while China has ramped up its threats to seize control of the island. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August, China reacted by staging unprecedented military drills.
The talks signaled a reopening of communication lines between the two sides that largely ruptured after Mrs. Pelosi’s Taiwan visit. Beijing suspended climate talk and a broad range of law-enforcement cooperation with the US while canceling some two-way military dialogues. In a further development the two countries have planned talks over several months and dozens of hours of negotiations, after Biden and Xi decided during a July phone call to work toward setting up an in-person meeting. While this was the first face-to-face meeting between Biden and Xi as their countries’ top leaders, the two have had five virtual or phone meetings since last year and had extensive interactions when they served as vice presidents of their respective countries.
During the meeting, the US president raised the cases of American citizens who are detained in China. Significantly, President Biden also expressed concerns about China’s treatment of ethnic Uyghurs who are detained in China and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. This subject is an anathema to the Chinese authorities but the Biden administration has not held back from raising it with President Xi as it is very conscious of human rights issues globally. Biden also touched upon another sore issue of Beijing’s suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong though the Chinese may not positively respond to it but the Americans will also not desist in keep on persisting about it.
The White House said the two leaders agreed that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Though Xi has signaled his concerns about the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine before, the White House was eager for the Chinese president to reiterate that stance during the meeting. This is the first time, therefore, that the Chinese leadership has officially distanced itself from the Russian offensive in Ukraine and given a clear signal that it is eager for a rapprochement with the US-led Western world that may cause concerns for Putin and the Kremlin. TW