Biden and Xi try to steady collapsing US-China relations in first meeting

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When Joe Biden and Xi Jinping meet in Bali on Monday, will probably be probably the most important check but of whether or not the 2 leaders can reverse what has been a dramatic decline in US-China relations.

After a rocky 4 years beneath Donald Trump, China hoped Biden would ease the turbulence. But relations have plummeted to their lowest level for the reason that nations normalised relations in 1979 as they solid a brand new path in the face of a typical rival in the Soviet Union.

“More than four decades later, in the absence of a similar common strategic rival, the growing competition and intensifying set of security, technological and ideological differences are overwhelming the relationship and risk moving the US and China on to a long, frigid course,” mentioned Paul Haenle of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was a China adviser to George W Bush and Barack Obama.

The US is anxious about points together with China’s navy exercise round Taiwan, its quickly increasing nuclear arsenal and its refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Beijing accuses the US of emboldening pro-independence forces in Taiwan, creating quasi-alliances such because the “Quad” to counter China, and attempting to comprise China with superior chip-related export controls.

Biden mentioned the leaders would define their “red lines” to see if there was room to resolve variations. The two males have talked 5 occasions since Biden grew to become president, however the efforts have been largely fruitless. US officers hope that their first in-person meeting as leaders will change that.

“There just is no substitute for this kind of leader-to-leader communication in navigating and managing such a consequential relationship,” mentioned Jake Sullivan, nationwide safety adviser.

Yet the hurdles stay excessive. US officers say Xi has not adopted by way of on his feedback to Biden a 12 months in the past that China would have interaction in talks about nuclear weapons. It can be exhausting to think about how each side might attain any compromise on Taiwan, which has emerged as probably the most contentious challenge in US-China relations.

Asked this week if he supposed to inform Xi that the US would defend Taiwan in opposition to an unprovoked assault from China — an announcement he has made 4 occasions — Biden mentioned: I’m going to have that dialog with him.”

Evan Medeiros, a China professional at Georgetown University, mentioned Biden wished to stabilise relations and significantly “prevent a downward spiral” over Taiwan. He mentioned Biden would try to reassure Xi that he was not altering the “One China” coverage, beneath which the US recognises Beijing as the only real authorities of China however acknowledges — with out endorsing — the Chinese place that Taiwan is a part of China.

But Medeiros cautioned that the deep animosity between the 2 nations lowered the chances of success. “This one summit will neither rescue nor redefine relations. At best, it may slow the deterioration.”

Bonnie Glaser, a China professional on the German Marshall Fund, mentioned Beijing had signalled that it didn’t need relations to worsen.

“Perhaps that has given Biden hope that, given our language about wanting to put a floor under this relationship, our objectives overlap,” she mentioned. “So, maybe we’ll be able to make progress. But there’s also a real possibility that this meeting has pretty similar outcomes to prior meetings.”

One Chinese diplomat mentioned there was an opportunity the meeting would assist relations as a result of “both sides are making an effort” and that some points might be resolved. He mentioned China hoped the US would challenge long-delayed visas for Chinese college students and that Beijing might make it simpler for international teachers and enterprise folks to go to China.

Chinese analysts mentioned some exchanges between officers, which Beijing halted after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, might be restarted.

“China doesn’t want a new cold war, but we have a lot of requests for the US,” mentioned Zhu Feng, a world relations professional at Nanjing University.

But past some low-hanging fruit, Chinese specialists have been deeply pessimistic. “In the past, security and economic issues were separate pillars in the bilateral relationship,” mentioned Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, who mentioned financial points have been now subordinate to political and safety issues.

Dennis Wilder, a former high CIA China analyst now at Georgetown University, mentioned Biden had “gone overboard” in phrases of balancing China and wanted to intensify efforts to increase engagement.

“I’m not saying that they haven’t done good things, like Aukus [the US, UK and Australia defence pact], the strengthening of relations with Japan and South Korea and with countries in the Pacific,” Wilder mentioned. “But you have to have engagement with balancing. Otherwise, you’re just headed down a road to mutually assured destruction”

Wang Chong, a US professional at Zhejiang International Studies University, mentioned the meeting might assist stabilise ties, coming after the US midterm elections and Xi securing a 3rd five-year time period as Chinese Communist social gathering chief.

“The Chinese party congress and US midterms are over. Both countries have more certainty about domestic issues. A meeting would have a positive effect on easing tensions,” Wong mentioned.

While Democrats did higher than anticipated in the midterm elections, Republicans are nonetheless seemingly to take management of the House, which is able to give extra energy to GOP lawmakers who need Washington to be more durable on China. It additionally stays unclear if Xi has confidence that Biden has the flexibility to cut back tensions, even when that’s his objective.

“The Chinese don’t see Biden as an extremely strong president. They think he’s overly concerned about the Republicans and being seen as soft on China,” mentioned one US-China professional.

“There’s also no certainty he will be in power for more than two years, so it’s a question mark as to whether Beijing will continue to invest in him.”

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter





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