Author: Alex Petriashvili, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
“He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours … However, we have made progress in all areas,” US President Joe Biden said at the press conference after his four-hour meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
What exactly did the US president mean when he spoke about progress?
1. It is highly significant that the presidents of the two countries agreed to restore certain contacts between the military, as communication had significantly reduced. First during the pandemic, and then, following the visit of US Congress Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022, by the decision of the Chinese side, contact was ceased completely. After the agreement reached in San Francisco, it is expected that a meeting of the the two countries’ heads of defense agencies will be planned and held in the near future.
2. The spread of fentanyl, a drug produced in China, within the country is a serious problem for the United States of America. The leaders of the two countries agreed that cooperation against the spread of drugs will be intensified between the law enforcement agencies. In particular, Official Beijing will take strict measures against fentanyl manufacturers in China and distributors in the US, and will resume contacts with the relevant US authorities.
3. Cooperation in the field of artificial intelligence was also on the list of positive results of the visit. Naturally, this is a very broad area, and we will see in the near future in what specific directions the US and China develop cooperation.
Despite the negative reaction from Official Beijing on President Biden’s remarks about Xi Jinping, the Chinese side generally gave a high assessment to President Xi’s visit to the USA. Major Chinese media outlets, including television, print and social media, devoted a lot of time to President Xi’s meeting with his American host. Most importantly, President Xi’s visit was presented in a highly positive light and was given historical significance, seeing the media showing footage of how the US president warmly greeted his Chinese counterpart, walked with him in the garden after the meeting, escorted him to his car, and admired the Chinese-made government vehicle.
Chinese media also portrayed as a significant achievement the fact that the US does not recognize Taiwan’s independence- something that was not even considered by the USA. According to an official document released by the White House outlining the minutes of the meeting, President Biden made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that the US “One China Policy” has been unchanged for decades; however, he noted that the world is interested in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and therefore the US will not allow unilateral change in the status-quo with respect to Taiwan.
Among the specific results, the Chinese side was satisfied that after the visit, China’s Public Security Examination Bureau was removed from the list of Chinese agencies sanctioned by the US Department of Commerce, which was included on said list due to problems related to the Uyghurs. This in itself was seen as a positive signal and an opportunity to remove other sanctioned agencies from the list in case of the successful development of further cooperation.
The Chinese president also met with the giants of America’s technology, business and finance sectors. At the meeting, as well as at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, the Chinese president called on large businesses and financial institutions to invest in the Chinese economy.
And it seems that there are indeed serious problems in that economy. The slowdown in its growth rate and the dynamics of the withdrawal of investment from China by large American investors (leading to a first-time-ever quarterly foreign direct investment deficit being recorded) have led the Chinese Communist Party and its sole leader to a new strategy, namely: It is better now for the Chinese economy to attract American and other businesses to the country and to present relations with the USA in a positive light. “China can be a partner and a friend” Xi Jinping said, addressing the American business sector. We have yet to see how this appeal will translate into action in the future.
The parties also agreed to work on fully implementing the bilateral air transport agreement, and to increase the amount of regular air traffic between the two countries.
The last important area in which the leaders of the two countries discussed the intensification of cooperation is environmental protection. Both agreed to reinvigorate cooperation through their special representatives, and to work together on the full implementation of international agreements reached in the field of environmental protection.
That ends the good news. Of course, the leaders of the two countries talked about the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war. The President of the USA here too made it very clear that the USA will continue to support Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression, and will do everything in its power to make Ukraine a more democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous country with the ability to deter and repel foreign aggression in the future.
Touching upon the Israel’s fight against Hamas, the US President also explicitly stated that America supports Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against terrorism.
Among the traditional issues of concern was the dire human rights situation in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. Unfortunately, it was again impossible to make any progress in this direction.
The US President reiterated his support for a free and open Indo-Pacific, its peaceful development, security and resilience. Also, according to Biden, the US support to the allied countries of the region is unwavering and firm.
Despite the positive background, there was probably quite a heated conversation regarding the problems in the trade sphere. The US President clearly stated that China’s unfair trade policy and attitude towards American companies is unacceptable. He also underscored that he will do everything possible in the future to prevent American technologies being used against the national security interests of the United States.
As we can see, if we look deeper into the information officially released by the parties, it is clear that the meeting was rather tense, and problematic issues clearly prevailed over positive solutions. However, even taking this into account, it should be noted that during a meeting with US senators in Beijing, the Chinese president, one month before his visit to San Francisco, assigned a special importance to the relations between the US and China. “These are the most important bilateral relations in the world. They will determine not only China’s future and destiny, but also affect the future of humanity.” It should be noted that Xi Jinping expressed similar sentiment to Putin during his visit to Moscow, although he used slightly different wording. The future will show how much influence Xi Jinping has on Putin. In short, it was extremely significant for global stability and security that Xi Jinping visited the US for the first time in six years as the Chinese president, and that the general background of the meeting was positive.