By Sushil Kutty
President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping met on Monday in the Indonesian island of Bali, the first substantive meeting between them since Joe Biden became President, and Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term. The other side of the road, other leaders of Group of 20 paused till Xi-and-Biden worked out the kinks in the US-China relationship. A potential thaw in relationship was the goal from the deep freeze where it stood. The general feeling after the three-hour long meeting was “progress had been made”.
Biden ruled out the need for a “new Cold War” with Xi equally committed. Joe said “(we) were candid and clear with one another across the board”. Xi, the more practical sounding of the two, admitted that China-US ties weren’t anything to write home about, and hopefully will be “steered in the right direction” from this time on.
As part of the thaw, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be in Beijing early next year. Climate change and global food security are top of the agenda. China couldn’t have continued without resuming ties with the United States which had been snapped short after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ill-advised intrusion into Taiwan.
President Xi came to Bali secure in his supremacy at home — and Biden with the sweet taste of a non-starter “red tsunami” in the mid-terms. Thanks to the happenings at their respective home countries, Xi and Joe could be freer on the international stage. The global situation visibly relaxed after the meeting though questions remained.
Biden could leave home at home and concentrate on repairing the global system reeling from the continued Russian offensive on Ukraine. Biden appeared content and cool at the press briefing after the meeting with Xi. A few more of former President Donald Trump’s aging teeth had been extracted and there was no more need to worry about the ‘Orange Man’ getting the better of the ‘Blue Man’. Biden’s foreign policy also stands vindicated.
“The message has gone round the world that the United States is ready to play… We’re going to stay fully engaged in the world,” Biden crowed. Should that make the world happy if not happier? A non-interfering United States is bad enough, but one that is “ready to play” is dangerous, especially when the opposite player in the game, China, is no longer an unknown quantity, but a dangerous entity.
The China-US thaw or freeze is not just limited to Taiwan, there is also “tariffs”, and the “export controls on semiconductors”, which could trigger an heightened economic war. Importantly, there was no joint-statement at the end of the Xi-Joe meeting.
Appears like not all the kinks in the equation have been removed. More likely none of them. The US-China relationship perhaps still remains frozen, the “level of trust” stuck at the Neanderthal stage. The world can remain fooled by the Joe and Xi rhetoric only at its own peril, and the world shouldn’t remove all the guardrails that protects, however ineffectively, it from a Sino-US triggered global catastrophe, especially when one of the two is a triply-strengthened dictator.
The two “readouts” that emerged after the Joe-Xi meeting told better the emerging story. There are issues that remain to be papered over. From the tech policies of the two countries to “Taiwan”, the divergence is striking. And if Trump isn’t a problem anymore for Biden, there’s still Russian President Vladimir Putin to worry about, Putin and his threat to use nuclear weapons in the war with Ukraine. China’s readout limited itself to there is “no simple solution” and “confrontation between major powers must be avoided.”
Compared to Ukraine, Taiwan emerged the bigger concern. The United States does not like the Chinese moves around Taiwan, and the rest of the world including India should also worry. A Putin-like, Ukraine-like, move by China on Taiwan and Ukraine will look like children at play. China’s aggressive actions around the “self-governing island” are not good signs for world peace.
A Ukraine-like move on Taiwan and matters will spill out of hand. India would be right on edge if it is not already. And it wouldn’t be China alone taking on the so-called free world. Satellites of China like North Korea and Pakistan wouldn’t be able to hold back. Taking sides will become the most-engaged game. Chinese PLA moves around Taiwan are damn dangerous for the rest of the world. For the Chinese, Taiwan is “very core of China’s core interests”, a fact that must not escape President Joe Biden’s attention.
More than the United States, China wants to see action on Taiwan. In fact, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the less the actions, the more the better. President Xi Jinping may have got himself a third term, but he is not getting younger with that accomplishment. Xi wants Taiwan done and dusted with long before somebody extracts his last remaining teeth. China’s 100th anniversary 2049 has still a long ways to go. (IPA Service)