Takeways from President Biden's and President Xi's Meeting
Nov 15, 2022
U.S. President Biden met with Chinese President Xi in Bali, Indonesia, on the 14th of November. The leaders met for three hours, discussing the Ukraine war, North Korean missiles, military tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and the possibilities of restoring the two states’ bilateral relationship. Biden’s recent relative success in the U.S. midterm elections saw him entering the meeting in a stronger position. The same goes for Xi, who recently secured his third term as China’s leader while at the same time promoting his closest allies.
A step in the right direction
The meeting between the two leaders was the first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office. After a period of increased tensions (e.g., U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit and U.S. further restrictions on semiconductors) the meeting in itself was a good sign. Both Presidents were quite optimistic about the progress of the meeting but remained adamant on issues they disagreed upon. The White House stated that the leaders had “agreed to empower key senior officials to maintain communication”, and both Washington and Beijing announced that they will resume climate talks that had been frozen since Pelosi’s visit.
Although a step in the right direction, it remains a very small one. Substantial grievances and disagreements persist, and the leaders seemed to talk at each other rather than with each other. Overall, the opportunity created for further dialogue were perhaps the most significant outcome of the meeting.
Biden stated after the meeting that he did not believe a Chinese invasion would be “imminent”, as he reiterated U.S. support for the One China-policy. On the contrary, China reaffirmed that the Taiwan question is an internal matter and “at the very core of China’s interest”.
However, the issue of Taiwan remains strained. Xi last week urged his military to prepare as for war, and his rhetoric is becoming increasingly aggressive. As for Washington, Taiwan seems to be non-negotiable as the issue is part of a broader paradigm shift in U.S. strategy and commitment to the Indo-Pacific region.
After the meeting, Beijing called on Washington to “match its words with it deeds” concerning Taiwan, which raised some speculations regarding how effective Biden was or intended to be in his reassurance that the U.S. policy on Taiwan will remain unchanged.
Human rights and the trade war
Biden reiterated his concerns about the PRC practices concerning human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, while China continued to imply that these are issues of internal affairs. The foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, stated that “the world is big enough for the countries to develop themselves”.
China’s readout after the meeting warned of a “trade war or technology war”. Last month the U.S. imposed its most dramatic restrictions yet, banning certain advanced semiconductor technology aimed at crippling Chinese development of technology (Consilio’s website: Entering a new phase of decoupling as the U.S. – China trade war escalates). The differences between the two states in regard to their economic relationship are likely to increase rather than decrease.
The Ukraine war
The U.S. has since the beginning of the Ukraine war taken a clear stance against China’s position. China has attempted to remain neutral and has reiterated its important partnership with Moscow. The White House stated that the two leaders agreed that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won. However, the Chinese readout did not mention nuclear weapons. Despite U.S. urging China to take a firmer stance on Russia, its position is unlikely to change.
The meeting between the two leaders will not result in any major breakthrough as significant differences on everything from Taiwan, the economic relationship, and human rights etcetera still remains. However, that the meeting actually took place is at least a step in the right direction that raises some modest hopes about further dialogue between the two states.