Dragons in San Francisco
The first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders in a year took place on Thursday, November 15, on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco. This is Xi Jinping’s first trip to the United States since 2017, and the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since November of last year.
Exactly one year after their last in-person meeting, while relations between Washington and Beijing are at a minimum, President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke to each other on Thursday in San Francisco on the sidelines of the summit.
Of course, this meeting will not put an end to the deadlock between the two world’s largest economies, but it is still a meeting that almost everyone has been waiting for and a sign that both leaders, despite trade tensions, limited mutual exports, and uncertainties and challenges regarding Taiwan’s future, are interested in maintaining communication channels at the highest levels.
The authorities responsible for the planning and organization of this session have made efforts to emphasize that the United States and China are not enemies, but rather competitors. We have a $700 billion trade relationship. Gina Raimondo, the US Secretary of Commerce, recently stated that we can claim that a wide range of bilateral trade relationships have not been affected by export restrictions.
Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, defined the two countries as mutually dependent economic partners, and Janet Yellen, the US Treasury Secretary, warned that the separation of the US economy from China will have significant global consequences. Therefore, we are witnessing a conciliatory tone, which actually reflects Xi Jinping’s attitude in his meeting a few days ago with a delegation of US Congress members who visited Beijing. In this meeting, the Chinese leader said there are a thousand reasons to improve US-China relations and no reason to worsen them.
In search of common ground
In fact, the expectations of both countries for the meeting between the two leaders on Thursday were relatively low. However, this did not mean that it was not expected to have tangible results and achievements. There were many issues on the negotiating table, from the war in Ukraine to the conflict in Gaza, Taiwan, and North Korea, as well as the fight against fentanyl smuggling and challenges and restrictions related to artificial intelligence.
But most importantly, as predicted by the Axios news website, the two countries announced the resumption of military communications, which had been halted by Beijing after Nancy Pelosi, the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, visited Taiwan in August 2022. Biden himself can provide an opportunity for direct investment in China’s struggling economy by the United States. Generally, one of the main goals of the White House is to establish conditions for responsible competition with China.
Rival, not enemy.
The meeting between the President of the United States and the leader of China is not the end of the competition between superpowers, but rather a glimmer of hope that this competition does not lead to conflict. The planet is large enough for both countries to succeed. If these words from Xi Jinping at the end of the meeting with Joe Biden do not signify the end of the competition between China and the United States, they can represent the fact that there is a desire for warmer relations on both sides.
In fact, this is confirmed by the announcement of the resumption of military communications and various other agreements in sectors that have recently become a source of tension. The first and most important agreement is the adoption of measures to combat fentanyl trafficking to the United States, a tragedy that has led to an increase in deaths caused by excessive consumption of this opioid in the country.
In this face-to-face meeting, which lasted over four hours and was previously anticipated, the two leaders discussed the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel. According to reports, Joe Biden asked his Chinese counterpart to use his influence on Iran and prevent the escalation and spread of conflict in the region.
The leaders of both countries also agreed to collaborate on global issues such as artificial intelligence and climate change. However, they reaffirmed that the true red line in their bilateral relations remains Taiwan. In this regard, Biden emphasized China’s unity in his press conference, while Xi stated that he has no intention of annexing the island through military means and expressed Beijing’s hope for peaceful reunification.
Overall, this meeting achieved the predetermined goal of reiterating the desire that competition between the United States and China will not turn into confrontation. Biden emphasized that the world expects both sides to manage competition responsibly. He said, ‘We have established a direct line of communication where each of us can pick up the phone and immediately reach out to the other.’
Fighting against fentanyl
In the San Francisco meeting, Biden and Xi reached an agreement to halt the production and export of fentanyl, a highly potent narcotic substance that is 50 times stronger than heroin and the main cause of overdose deaths among Americans aged 18 to 49. This drug, initially approved as a painkiller and anesthetic by the US Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, has now become a trafficking issue that the Washington government is unable to stop, leading to a public health emergency in the United States. Bloomberg reported that under this agreement, China commits to legally pursue chemical companies that illegally export this drug and its raw materials to Latin America.
On the other hand, it is unclear what other promises the White House has made to Beijing, except for committing to lift restrictions on companies that comply with the agreements. According to the report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the death toll from drug overdoses in the United States has more than tripled from 2016 to 2021, with over 110,000 deaths reported last year due to excessive drug use, of which more than two-thirds were attributed to fentanyl.
Note: The translation has been slightly modified to sound more natural and literal, but it still conveys the same meaning.
This agreement is a significant victory for President Biden, who has prioritized combating the epidemic of synthetic opioids as one of his government’s top priorities, considering the presidential elections in 2024.
Xi is a dictator.
Immediately after Biden described his conversation with the Chinese President as honest and constructive, his strange response to a reporter at a press conference quickly caught the attention of the international media. When asked if he still referred to Xi as a dictator, Biden said, ‘Well, in a way, yes,’ meaning that he leads a communist country that has a completely different form of government than ours.
These heavy words may jeopardize the nuances of the meeting between the two leaders, but Beijing did not remain silent and wasted no time in speaking of political manipulation and calling Biden’s statements very wrong. Mao Ning, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that China is firmly opposed to this kind of speech.
The reception of the Chinese leader at the dinner with American entrepreneurs and representatives of major US companies, including Apple, Pfizer, and Tesla, was very warm, according to the Financial Times. In this event, the Chinese President delivered a message to American companies, which greatly encouraged Xi Jinping. He said that China is a large market and a friend.
The tension continues to ease.
While the meeting between Biden and Xi helped promote dialogue and cooperation, it also provided an opportunity for both sides to highlight their differences. It seems that these differences go beyond the agreements reached, which will actually determine the future relationship between the two countries.
One of these points of contention is the issue of Taiwan, which Xi has always defined as the biggest and potentially most dangerous issue, according to previous news and reports. Therefore, it is likely that we will witness periods of tension and further conflicts between the two countries in the future. In fact, there is no new point, but it is important that the talks continue to prevent the situation from deteriorating.
From this perspective, the main outcome of this meeting was the decision to resume military communications between the two sides, which was halted by China after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022. The Economist suggests that the best thing that can be said about this meeting is that it took place and promises to revive the habit of dialogue after a turbulent year with presidential elections in Taiwan and the United States. However, whether this dialogue will also be halted in a place where the previous conversation failed, we will only see with the next crisis.
The long-awaited meeting between Xi and Biden in San Francisco took place as expected. No other agreements were signed except for the anticipated agreements in recent days regarding fentanyl, resumption of military communications, cooperation in combating climate change, and managing artificial intelligence.
However, Biden made it clear that the two countries are in competition, and the United States will collaborate with its international allies to protect its industry. Xi Jinping also reminded some of China’s classic political moves and emphasized that China will adhere to its economic and political development model. Ultimately, it can be concluded that this meeting was primarily focused on finding ways to manage the relationship between the two countries in order to avoid diplomatic incidents and repetitive points within the framework of structural competition.
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