- While the summit will restore key communication channels and help avoid unintended conflict, the EIU expects tensions between the US and China to remain in 2024.
- The two leaders have been in fundamental conflict over some issues, including export controls.
- Both nations agreed to restore military communications, fulfilling a key American request.
Last week, the presidents of the United States and China, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, held their second in-person meeting since 2022. Alongside the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, the leaders gathered at the Filoli estate near San Francisco for a four-hour session to eased tensions between the US and China and prevented the competitive relationship from developing into a more contentious confrontation.
But the meeting was not only about that. Beijing and Washington also agreed to cooperate on narcotics control and artificial intelligence, while crucially deciding to resume military-to-military communications.
Their initial summit a year ago in Bali was also aimed at preventing conflict amid intense US-China tensions. Unfortunately, the attempts were thwarted by a suspected Chinese spy balloon over North America in February of this year.
But the sequence of events after the Biden-Xi summit in Bali took place in the summer of this year when US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delayed trip to Beijing took place, at first hampered by the incident with the Chinese spy balloon. Observing the deepening economic crisis in China, Blinken expressed a strong desire for a visit from Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
This was followed by discreet meetings in Vienna and Washington, attended by Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and his counterpart, Wang Yi. This orchestrated series of interactions was to culminate in a four-hour meeting between Biden and Xi at Villa Filoli on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.
Biden followed Xi to his car after their meeting. “It’s a beautiful vehicle,” he remarked. “It’s a Hongqi car, made in China,” Xi replied. This short moment became the most popular on Weibo today, where it has been viewed more than 270 million times. pic.twitter.com/piyhUlCxr6
— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) November 16, 2023
“I appreciate our conversation because I think the most important thing is that you and I understand each other clearly, leader to leader, without misunderstandings or miscommunication. We must ensure that competition does not turn into conflict,” Biden said in his opening remarks as the two delegations faced each other. “The critical global challenges we face, from climate change to the fight against narcotics to artificial intelligence, require our joint efforts,” he urged. is Biden.
According to Chinese state television CCTVXi then referred to his first meeting with Biden — in China 12 years ago, when both were vice presidents — and quickly turned to “serious” economic problems, including “protectionism.”
China is unhappy with specific US policies that it sees as increasing tensions between the US and China, based on its longstanding understanding that Washington wants to impede its progress. These concerns revolve around export controls, investment reviews and unilateral sanctions.
In fact, Xi admitted for the first time in the presence of his archenemy that US actions have “seriously harmed China’s legitimate interests, suppressing Chinese science and technology to limit China’s high-quality development and deny the Chinese people their development rights.” China subsequently stated that it had no plans to overtake or replace the US, and said that the latter should not aim to suppress or contain the eastern power.
“The global economy is recovering, but its momentum remains slow,” Xi added. “Industrial and supply chains are still under threat of disruption and protectionism is on the rise. These are all serious problems.” He added: “The relationship between China and the US, which is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, should be viewed and imagined in the broad context of the acceleration of global transformations unseen in a century.”
What did Biden and Xi talk about?
“The last time we met in Bali was one year and one day ago. A lot has happened since then,” Xi said at the beginning of his speech in response to Biden’s. He said it was impractical for China and the US to avoid each other. Even mutual realignment is unrealistic, and conflict has unbearable consequences, Xi said.
“I am still of the opinion that the competition of the big countries is not the prevailing trend of the present time and cannot solve the problems facing China and the United States, or the world in general. Planet Earth is big enough for two countries to succeed, and the success of one country is an opportunity for another,” he added.
According to various reports that followed during the meeting, Xi strongly protested the program’s cancellation the fastest computer chips, expressed his concern. In response, Biden asserted that this measure is necessary for prevent potential help the Chinese army. The two leaders disagreed on the issue, with Xi seeing it as an economic stranglehold, while Biden saw it as a matter of national security.
Xi also stressed that Beijing’s concerns, especially regarding Taiwan, must be respected. “China has interests that must be protected, principles that must be defended and ultimate limits that must be adhered to,” he said, according to South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Underscoring the importance and sensitivity of the Taiwan issue in bilateral relations, Xi stressed that Washington should fulfill its commitment not to support Taiwan’s independence with tangible actions and to stop supplying arms to the island – a commitment that Biden, in particular, has allowed to slip significantly during his presidency so far .
Military communications will continue
The two countries agreed to restore mutual communication, which is high on Washington’s wish list. “On an issue that has been strongly pushed by the U.S., the two agreed to continue defense policy coordination talks, military naval consultative agreement meetings and battlefield commander talks between the Pentagon and the People’s Liberation Army,” SCMP noted.
After then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s visit to self-ruled Taiwan last August, China suspended three communication channels. These channels were originally established to prevent unintended crises and facilitate worst-case-scenario resolution tools.
“Restoring those military contacts, and not only at the defense secretary level, but also at the regional command level and the operational level, is critical to help avoid misjudgments and mistakes,” Blinken said in an interview a day after the Xi-Biden meeting. The move should certainly help ease tensions between the US and China.
Fighting the fentanyl trade
Biden’s aides could also quickly negotiate a potentially significant agreement, by Chinese diplomatic standards, to stem the flow of chemical precursors for fentanyl to the US. Chinese manufacturing companies are the source of the drug and the precursor chemicals that can be combined to produce it. Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid.
While the deal marks a political victory for Biden amid his re-election campaign, showcasing efforts to address the ongoing drug crisis, various reports indicate that policy experts remain skeptical of China’s commitment to significantly influence the global illicit drug supply chain.
“They question whether Beijing will do so or is even capable of rooting out shady players within China’s vast chemical industry who use encrypted communications and cryptocurrencies while selling chemical precursors to Mexican drug traffickers,” the author’s article The Washington Post reads
Regarding artificial intelligence, both sides agreed to engage in dialogue to prevent its application emerging technology in a way that could disrupt global security, according to US officials. As reported Xinhua news agency, the meeting also resulted in an agreement to cooperate on increasing flights between the two countries next year.
Will US-China Relations Face More Tensions in 2024?
The discussions primarily followed the format of the previous presidential meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2022. Biden and Xi opened with a meeting involving their key advisers. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo were present for the talks, along with members of the Chinese delegation, including Finance Minister Lan Fo’an, Commerce Minister Wang Wentao and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Before the meeting, officials from the US and China participated in discussions to determine the agenda and structure of the event. Associates confirmed that every detail of the visit will be scrutinized. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said it expected the engagement to bring some short-term stability to bilateral ties, but not resolve tensions between the US and China on a long-term basis.
“The meeting will support to a cyclical rise in US-China ties and reduce some trade and geopolitical risks,” the EIU said, noting that this, however, will not be enough to halt the structural downward trajectory of relations. The EIU assessment reflects deep levels of mistrust on both sides, which the presidential engagement has not resolved. There were, however, several areas of agreement that were in line with the EIU’s expectations.
The EIU also believes that the inability to find common ground on China-Taiwan relations—or resolve Chinese opposition to US technology export restrictions, investment screening measures and sanctions—will mean these topics will remain areas of US-China tension. Similarly, there has been no apparent progress on China’s support for Russia or its position on the Hamas-Israel war.
“US-China relations will undergo several tests in the coming months. Some of these stem from domestic US politics as Biden brandishes his hawkish credentials ahead of the 2024 US election; at the press conference at the end of the meeting, Biden, in a direct remark, called Xi a ‘dictator’, a label he used last year, which provoked a strong reaction from China,” the EIU noted.
While the summit will restore key communication channels and help avoid unintended conflict, the EIU expects tensions between the US and China to remain in 2024. “Additional restrictions targeting China’s technology sector (or its electric vehicles) are likely, given domestic criticism USA because of ineffectiveness of current controlswhile China’s response to the upcoming Taiwan election—which the US will also be closely watching (and reacting to)—could lead to another period of diplomatic instability,” it added.