Xi-Biden Virtual Summit
Breaking ground for a more constructive,
At a time when the relations between the United States and China are at a historic low, the presidents of the two countries – US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping – spoke, on November 15, for three and a half hours on a range of sensitive issues, including trade, human rights and Taiwan. Little of substance was expected, but Biden said the two sides had to establish “guardrails” to prevent a clash, while Xi said he was glad to see his “old friend.” President Biden said the two had “always communicated with one another very honestly and candidly,” adding “we never walk away wondering what the other man is thinking.”
In his opening remarks, President Biden acknowledged that competition between the United States and China was expected but said it was his and Xi’s personal responsibility as leaders to ensure that rivalry did not veer into conflict. “It seems to me we need to establish some commonsense guardrails, to be clear and honest where we disagree, and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change,” Biden said.
During the vcall, Biden said the US opposes “unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Speaking from Beijing, Xi said the two countries faced multiple challenges.
He referred to Biden as “my old friend,” and said the rivals must work more closely together. “China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation,” he said.
China’s state media noted the “friendly tone” of the opening of the discussions, and reflected the “personal relationship” between the two leaders. The two men previously met in person while each was serving as vice president under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, respectively.
Little of substance was expected of the Xi-Biden virtual meeting, but the very fact US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are now talking is itself a significant breakthrough. Already there are signs this is bearing fruit, with
reports suggesting that China and the US have agreed to relax visa restrictions on each other’s journalists. The better tone was reflected in an agreement to ease restrictions on each other’s journalists. Each side said they would issue one-year multiple-entry visas, which reversed a Trump-era policy of limiting Chinese journalists and putting them on short visas—a policy that China adopted in retaliation.
One critical point was Taiwan. China has ratcheted up the pressure on the self-governing island, which China claims as part of its territory, by sending dozens of planes near Taiwan’s airspace. The United States has never formally pledged to defend Taiwan in the event of attack, but for decades, the assumption has been that it would, if China launched an unprovoked invasion. Formally, the United States is only bound by law to help Taiwan defend itself, especially by selling weapons.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views “reunification” with Taiwan — a self-ruling democracy it has never governed — as a key unresolved issue on China’s path toward its “great rejuvenation.” That a US President would potentially agree with
China’s view on this issue is, therefore, a big propaganda win.
Even though it wasn’t held in person, the meeting could be the last chance for a get-together for the next year. Early next year, China will be readying to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and then both countries are likely to be consumed by domestic concerns.
Xi will likely be busy preparing for next autumn’s Chinese Communist Party congress, when Xi is expected to be appointed for an unprecedented third term, while Biden will be focusing on midterm elections in the hopes of preventing his Democratic Party from losing control of one or both houses of Congress.