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Will the Biden-Xi summit change the troubled relations between the United States and China?

It was one of the most anticipated summits. Although virtuality lessened the impact that a face-to-face meeting of this caliber would have had, the first formal meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, the leaders of the two world powers and, in addition, main rivals on the geopolitical board, was a momentous step in how the relations between China and USA.

The meeting, the first since the Biden era, did not leave major agreements, but allowed the tone to be lowered in the extreme tension that both countries are experiencing. It was a meeting where the words chosen and the topics on the agenda set the tone, and where rhetoric and silences were more important than any joint communiqué, which was also absent.

Both presidents treated each other with respect and cordiality in an extensive conversion that lasted three and a half hours. In fact, Xi hailed Biden as his “old friend”, with whom he had already dealt with multiple times when he was vice president of Barack Obama, but did not hesitate to establish what are the points in which his country is not willing to compromise, such as sensitive Taiwan issue.

“It seems clear to me that we need to establish some common sense safety barriers,” Biden told Xi in his opening remarks, not before relaxing the moment by saying that “We don’t have to be so formal, because we already know each other.”

“Although there has not been a drastic change in tensions and there was no common agreement or declaration, the fact that there has been an expanded communication for several hours between Xi and Biden is already a good indication that they are at least talking”, explains to El Comercio the Peruvian economist and expert in China, Marco Carrasco.

“This dialogue has been a relief and for the Chinese it is important to give the impression that both leaders have spoken at the same height and at the same level”Also points out to this newspaper the German analyst Benjamin Creutzfeldt, doctor and researcher at the Center for China and Asia-Pacific Studies of the University of the Pacific.

“Although there were no concrete results, there has been a mature dialogue between both parties and provocations have been put aside, as in the Trump era”, adds. “Both Biden and Xi made their priorities clear. Americans on the issue of human rights and what they call ‘the rules of the international system’, to which China belongs. And China stressed that it has priority interests such as non-intervention in internal affairs, which includes Taiwan ”.

For Carrasco, one of the consequences that the summit has brought is that it has shown that, despite the differences and rivalry, both presidents have sat down to talk. “They are rival economies and nations, they do not agree on everything, but they have shown that it is possible to sit down and talk.”

Creutzfeldt also agrees that guidelines were restored to avoid misunderstandings and risks of confrontations. “That is the importance of this meeting. There was no progress, but both sides established their priorities and interests and were very clear on this. There is open competition, but it was already clear that both leaders trust that the other is speaking his mind “, analyze.

These are some of the key topics that were covered during the summit:

1. Taiwan, the rebel island

The matter of Taiwan it is one of the most sensitive for Beijing. The Chinese regime claims sovereignty over the island of 23 million people, although it does not control it. For its part, Washington supports Taiwan militarily despite having diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1979, which implies being in favor of the “One China” policy.

As the AFP agency recalls, China intensified its air raids over the island territory in recent weeks and President Xi Jinping has said that his country’s objective is to recover Taiwan for mainland China, prompting the reaction of President Biden, who pointed out that the United States “strongly opposes” any “unilateral attempt to change the status quo or to undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” Working for the independence of Taiwan is “playing with fire,” replied Xi Jinping. “If the Taiwanese separatists provoke us, force us or even cross the red line, then we will have to take action,” he warned.

“Mainland China’s stance on Taiwan is unshakable and they will always have that vision. There were some air movements near the island, but it is very difficult for any military intervention by China to take place due to the great cost that it may demand “explains Carrasco.

“If China takes any action along these lines, the US will act. In addition, there are interests of the United States to maintain geopolitically unexpanded China in all its power, because if Taiwan joined China, that economic weight would also add, which is something that Washington does not want. But it is not something close to happen. By all the roads that one sees it, it is trapped “, Add.

2. The geopolitical board

Since the disputes between China and the United States intensified, there has been talk of “a new Cold War”, and that is something that Xi stressed at the summit.

“Engaging in ideological demarcation, division of fields, group confrontation, will inevitably bring disaster to the world”said the Chinese president. As “The New York Times” analyzes, this is a clear reference to a pillar of Biden’s strategy to challenge China by forming alliances that make Beijing uncomfortable in its area of ​​influence. “The consequences of the Cold War are not far off”Xi warned.

However, Biden assured him that his country does not want “neither to change the Chinese system nor to ally itself with other countries to oppose China.” “This detail has been very important for the Chinese, as it marks for them a distancing from the policy of former President Donald Trump”, Carrasco scores.

The virtual meeting between Biden and Xi was the first formally between the two world leaders, since the arrival of the Democrat to the White House.  (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

Thus, the Chinese leader asked to “build consensus” to redirect relations, which he described as “the most important issue for the next 50 years.” “We are two large ships sailing in the sea, and we need to hold the rudder tightly to keep going despite the winds and avoid colliding with each other”, poetized the president.

“An observation worth highlighting is that both leaders discussed how to handle the current and future situation. They could have attacked or accused each other of many things, like where the virus came from or the catastrophic departure from Afghanistan, but they put that aside. This is very important, because both the US and China consider that their systems and their ways of governing are the best to face the challenges for the future ”, explica Creutzfeldt.

“After the meeting it has not been said that each one will go their own way and there will be no more dialogue, but rather that it is a competition where each one runs on the same track, even if they have disagreements along the way”he adds. “The ground was established to build a coordination. At least they are understanding on which points they agree or disagree ”.

“Beyond the differences, which are undoubtedly many, there are topics that could be the subject of dialogue for future meetings, such as the possible collaboration of both on health issues, global security assurance, poverty reduction, those issues that they are seen as interconnected in the world, and if there is no joint work between the two main economies, then not much progress can be made”, Details Carrasco.

3. Human rights

During the dialogue, and according to the White House, Biden expressed “his concern about the (Chinese) practices in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and about human rights in general”, but without specifying the cases. The Chinese government did not explicitly mention these points in its report.

However, Xi generally noted that “on the basis of mutual respect, we are ready to engage in dialogue on human rights issues.” But he emphatically added: “We reject that human rights serve as a pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of another country.” As the AFP explains, several human rights organizations accuse Beijing of having interned at least one million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in “re-education camps”, which China rejects.

4. The trade war

Another topic of the conversation was trade exchanges, a stumbling block that still exists between the two powers since Donald Trump launched his trade war against China that caused the mutual imposition of punitive tariffs.

In this regard, Biden stressed that he must “protect American workers and their companies from China’s unfair practices.”

As the AP agency highlights, President Xi did not take for granted: “Our business relationships benefit both in and of themselves. They should not be politicized “. However, the Chinese president criticized the United States for “abusing the concept of national security” to “repress” companies in his country, in clear reference to the US sanctions against Huawei technology for its alleged links with Chinese intelligence.

5. Environment

The fight against climate change has become an important issue on the agenda of both presidents and is, finally, a common point between China and the United States, two of the most polluting countries on the planet.

“We have the obligation to maintain a peaceful and stable international order”Xi said. “We have to keep communication open on critical issues for the world such as the climate crisis or global energy supply. These issues concern us and in them we both play an important role “, Biden stressed.


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