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Xi and Biden start a preliminary dance in Bali

Biden and Xi

Nothing has changed since the presidents of China and the United States, Xi Jinping and Joe
Biden, met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. At best, the three-hour-long
face-to-face meeting formalized the status quo.

The meeting was good enough more for academic interest than any diplomatic breakthroughs. It
was the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since both became heads of state. It was
the first unmasked meeting between them after the pandemic.
In terms of domestic politics, both were meeting after consolidating their respective positions in
their countries. Xi came to Bali after getting a third term of power at the 20th party congress.
Biden arrived after surviving a Republican scare that never materialized in the just-concluded US
midterm elections.

Ultimately, while the meeting must have given Biden a first-hand impression of personality
changes Xi has undergone since becoming president – both have interacted several times in the
past when neither was president – Xi may use the meeting to once again convince himself who is
the lesser evil between a Democrat President and a Republican one, having tasted the Trump
presidency and wondering who will occupy the White House in 2024.

The Xinhua agency said of the meeting: “The current state of China-US relations is not in the
fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples, and is not what the international
community expects, Xi said. China and the United States need to have a sense of responsibility
for history, for the world and for the people, explore the right way to get along with each other in
the new era, put the relationship on the right course, and bring it back to the track of healthy and
stable growth to the benefit of the two countries and the world as a whole, he added.”

There is enough in the world media on what Biden said about Taiwan, North Korea and the
Ukraine conflict. But the world is not clear about what the Chinese side thinks of the meeting
other than the single statement that they talked “bluntly” about all issues.
Whether it is for internal consumption or to erase the skepticism of the west, whatever the
reason, the state media is trying to project the image of Xi as a leader who is interestd in peace
and has come out of the meeting with Biden with many positives.

Xinhua uses Xi’s words to elucidate on issues that have no bearing whatsoever on the agenda of
the Xi-Biden meeting. The agency quotes from Xi’s address to the 20th party congress to do its
public relations work: “Xi said that he takes very seriously Biden’s “five-noes” statement. China
does not seek to change the existing international order or interfere in the internal affairs of the
United States, and has no intention to challenge or displace the United States, Xi said, calling on
the two sides to respect each other, coexist in peace, pursue win-win cooperation, and work
together to ensure that China-U.S. relations move forward on the right course without losing
direction or speed, still less having a collision. Observing the basic norms of international
relations and the three China-US joint communiques is vitally important for the two sides to
manage differences and disagreements and prevent confrontation and conflict, Xi said, noting
that it is indeed the most important guardrail and safety net for China-U.S. relations.”

What, in Xinhua’s words quoting Xi, are China’s expectations from the United States? “Pointing
out that the world is at a major inflection point in history, Xi said that countries need to both
tackle unprecedented challenges and seize unprecedented opportunities, adding that this is the
larger context in which the two sides should view and handle China-U.S. relations. China-U.S.
relations should not be a zero-sum game where one side out-competes or thrives at the expense
of the other, Xi said. The successes of China and the United States are opportunities, not challenges, for each other. The world is big enough for the two countries to develop themselves
and prosper together, he added. The two sides should form a correct perception of each other’s
domestic and foreign policies and strategic intentions, Xi said, noting that China-U.S.
interactions should be defined by dialogue and win-win cooperation, not confrontation and zero-
sum competition.”

The world knows Biden raising the Taiwan issue with Xi, but the essence of Xi’s response can
be confirmed from Xinhua’s quote from their president: “Xi also gave a full account of the origin
of the Taiwan question and China’s principled position. He stressed that the Taiwan question is at
the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-US
relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations. Resolving the
Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese and China’s internal affair…China hopes to see, and
are all along committed to, peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, but cross-Strait peace
and stability and ‘Taiwan independence’ are as irreconcilable as water and fire….Xi said that
China hopes that the U.S. side will act on this assurance to real effect.”

This make it clear that there was no relaxation in the rigid attitudes of Xi and Biden on all the
critical issues. So, what did they agree upon, if at all, at their meeting? Xinhua comes up with the
following points where both sides has deep understanding. One is that both diplomatic teams
“should maintain strategic communication and conduct regular consultations”. Two, “common
understandings on conducting dialogue and cooperation in public health, agriculture and food
security”. Three, “people-to-people exchange is very important, and pledged to encourage the
expansion of such exchange in all sectors”.

What the Chinese state media refused to divulge is the Chinese concern about the United States
shifting its military focus since last year from the Middle East to Asia. Taiwan and North Korea
have replaced Afghanistan and Syria where American propaganda about its global ideals is
concerned. Xi may have used the meeting to assess Biden’s conviction to carry through his
doctrine of maintaining a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.

As NPR (National Public Radio) points out, the outcome of the meeting boils down to this:
“Both Chinese and American militaries have recently been beefing up their capabilities in case of
a conflict over Taiwan. For Washington, this is also a part of the broader paradigm shift in its
strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. After decades of concentrating its fighting power in the
Middle East, the US is now shifting its focus to Asia. China is watching closely, too. Xi recently
appointed a new slate of top military leaders from China’s Eastern Theater Command, which
encompasses Taiwan, indicating that going forward, the island is a priority for China’s fighting