Biden-Xi call renders lackluster overhaul of polarized policy stances

There was “a conversation about a face-to-face meeting being worked out between the teams, so from my perspective there was really a clear affirmative agenda that was offered and agreed to by the leadership for the teams are working,” the official said.

The most pressing issue for the teams is managing tensions over Taiwan that have skyrocketed due to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s proposed visit to the self-governing island. A Chinese government reading of the appeal shows Xi chastised Biden over perceived U.S. violations of the three U.S.-China communiqués that spell out Washington’s relationship with the island. Beijing’s reading of the conversation contained an implied threat against anyone seeking to stoke independence fervor in Taiwan: “Those who play with fire shall perish.”

To hammer home this, 30 minutes after the call ended, Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, tweeted a video featuring Shanghai-based Chinese Communist Party propagandist Andy Boreham. Boreham is a New Zealand native whose Twitter feed is categorized as “Chinese state-affiliated media.Boreham titled the video “Taiwan is not a country and Nancy Pelosi should stay away.”

In the Chinese political community in Washington, there is sympathy for Beijing’s view that Pelosi’s proposed trip is a gratuitously inflammatory move that will only worsen US-China relations.

“His presence in Taipei would not make any point that the United States has not made recently and repeatedly … and distracts both sides from efforts to frame and stabilize their dangerous relationship,” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center.

But hopes for a breakthrough at an in-person Biden-Xi meeting could be dashed. The timing of the proposed meeting — after the fall’s 20th Communist Party Congress, where Xi is widely expected to emerge with an unprecedented third term as supreme leader — suggests his motivations for meeting Biden may be more tactical than strategic.

“He wants Biden to meet him, and basically it’s going to be a public announcement saying ‘hey listen, my legitimacy and my leadership has been recognized by the US president,'” Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, said. a Washington-based think tank. “In fact, I don’t believe the Chinese will change their approach to contentious issues. I don’t think the Chinese are going to be any less coercive on Taiwan, and I don’t think the Chinese are going to be any less competitive or less bitter and hostile in regional competition.

The Biden-Xi call addressed other issues only in the broadest terms. Xi stressed the need for bilateral coordination on macroeconomic policies to maintain the stability of global supply chains and maintain food and energy security. Xi and Biden committed to unspecified follow-up on climate change and health security issues, but did not set timelines or targets. The two leaders exchanged views on what the administration official described as “Russia’s war in Ukraine and the global impacts it is having,” but there was no indication Biden was looking to budge. Xi of his “no limits” alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The discussion of trade tensions related to Trump-era tariffs imposed on $370 billion worth of Chinese imports has also been overlooked. Biden limited his talking points on trade to “fundamental concerns about China’s unfair economic practices,” the administration official said.

Biden sought Xi’s cooperation on counter-narcotics, a pressing matter given the thousands of overdose deaths in the United States each year from illicit fentanyl made from Chinese raw materials. Xi’s reading made no mention of the issue, and Beijing has refused to engage with it since national security adviser Jake Sullivan first raised it as a proposed bilateral cooperation point in November.

“President Biden also spoke about the need to resolve cases of U.S. citizens wrongfully detained or subject to exit bans in China,” the official said.

This is good news for the families of hundreds of US citizens arbitrarily detained or unable to leave China due to exit bans who say their efforts to push the Chinese and US governments to bring their loved ones home have clashed. to a wall. Biden’s decision to raise the issue with Xi reflects what Sullivan described last month as “a personal priority for himself and for the president.”

But as with co-operation against narcotics, it is unclear if the Chinese are interested.

“The label of arbitrary detention suits the United States better than anyone else,” Liu, the Chinese spokesman, said in a statement earlier this month. “We urge the United States to end this hypocritical and absurd performance and focus on correcting its own mistakes.”

Despite the challenges to meaningful progress on bilateral issues, the fact that the two leaders can still meet there for up to three hours in a single meeting confirms that the relationship is viable and that positive change remains possible.

“Although this latest call, like the four that preceded it, did not produce many meaningful deliverables, it is useful to maintain regular exchanges between leaders,” said Craig Singleton, senior China researcher at the Defense Foundation. of democracies, said in a statement. “As the United States and China face severe economic headwinds, both Biden and Xi will face growing domestic pressure to stabilize bilateral relations, if only to calm jittery investors. who remain deeply skeptical about the health of the world’s two largest economies. ”

Nicolle Liu contributed to this report.


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