Biden Xi Jinping meeting: Reflects that China is under pressure

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The much-awaited meeting between US President Biden and CCP President Xi Jinping took place on the 15th November 2023 on the sidelines of the APEC Summit, which was almost eclipsed by the former. While there was no breakthrough, progress on some issues was observed. An analysis of Xi’s statements and the brief by the White House indicate that China is under pressure and desires that there should not be any further deterioration in the situation, which China cannot handle. Its economy is fast declining and desperately needs US investments, the removal of US technological controls, which are adversely impacting China’s capabilities to manufacture advanced semiconductors as also the use of Artificial Intelligence, and the growing internal opposition to Xi.
The meeting took place when US-China relations plummeted to the lowest level in recent times. The forces of the US and China were making dangerous moves in the South China Sea (SCS), generating apprehension that any miscalculation could lead to a conflict. Strategically they are rivals, though euphemistically it is called ‘competition.’ China aims to establish its hegemony in the region, while the US intends to maintain the status quo.
Xi finds the situation excruciating with the US applying pressure. It first removed Qin Gang as the Ambassador to the US, known to be a wolf warrior diplomat. While initially, Qin took over as the Foreign Minister, soon he vanished into thin air. The timing of his disappearance also suggests the US pressure: it happened soon after the Blinken’s visit. Then, during the visit of Blinken, China declared the trade in fentanyl and other such drugs illegal. Hence, the agreement to ‘resume bilateral cooperation to combat global illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking, including synthetic drugs like fentanyl and establishment of a working group for coordination on counternarcotics issues,’ did not come as a surprise.
On climate change, the agreement to accelerate efforts to tackle this crisis was also not a new development. This has been according to their declared objective and both have reiterated this on several international platforms.
The resumption of high-level military-to-military communication, as well as the US-China Defense Policy Coordination Talks, and the US-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement were substantial outcomes. While these were the result of the desire of both to avoid any untoward incident arising from miscalculations, China’s ability to face a conflict at this time in the South China Sea (SCS) is limited.
The White House brief indicates that Biden firmly pointed out the US concerns and policies. Biden, while underscoring the United States’ support for a free and open Indo-Pacific, reaffirmed the USA’s ironclad commitment to defending its Indo-Pacific allies. He also emphasised the USA’s enduring commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight, adherence to international law, maintaining peace and stability in the SCS and East China Sea (ECS), and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This was a veiled attack on China’s continued support of North Korea.
On Ukraine, Biden stated that the US along with its allies will continue to support that country against ‘Russian aggression’ and on the Israel Hamas conflict, he reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism. He also emphasised the importance of all countries using their influence to prevent escalation and expansion of the conflict.
Significantly, he raised his concerns regarding PRC human rights abuses, including in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. On Taiwan, he reiterated that the US was opposed to any change in the status quo, though adding ‘from either side’ to suggest that the US was not encouraging Taiwan to declare independence. Interestingly when Xi reached San Francisco, he was greeted by protesters demanding freedom for Hong Kong, Tibet, and Uighurs. They contradicted Xi’s audacious statement that China has not occupied any foreign land. Well, Xi is known for telling lies without blinking an eyelid and therefore this statement did not surprise anyone.
On unfair trade practices and misuse of technologies, Biden raised his worries without mincing words. He explained the adverse impact of China’s unfair trade policies, non-market economic practices, and punitive actions against US firms, which harm American workers and families. Similarly, he declared that the US will continue to take necessary actions to prevent advanced US technologies from being used to undermine the US national security.
The White House brief also contained usual diplomatic sentences made for continued high-level diplomacy and interactions in key areas, including on commercial, economic, financial, Asia-Pacific, arms control, and non-proliferation, maritime, export control enforcement, policy-planning, agriculture, and disability issues.
The applause from the business community also needs to be seen in the proper perspective. They cheered on the issues, which they wanted from China.
The moot question is how far China will continue to remain under pressure to abide by its assurances. The two leaders had met one year ago in Bali and stressed the importance of responsibly managing competitive aspects of the relationship, preventing conflict, maintaining open lines of communication, cooperating on areas of shared interest, upholding the UN Charter, and all countries treating each other with respect and finding a way to live alongside each other peacefully. But what happened afterward. The relations between them did not improve and China remained aggressive with the result that Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, and South Korea moved closer to the US.
The current Xi’s posture appears to be temporary and tactical. There is no hint that PRC is changing its main policy of replacing the US or will be less aggressive. The US should be careful in responding to Xi’s request for liberalising its policy to help the PLA by supplying high-end technology.
India needs to watch the developments very carefully. It is in its economic interest that peace should prevail in the Indo-Pacific region and for that, the FOIP needs a greater push by all Quad members and others. Any change in the US policy can be problematic. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is being exploited by China to enhance its presence in that country. Forces restraining the Chinese aggressiveness are essential for peace in the region.

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