After meeting with China’s leader on Monday, Biden told reporters that “there does not need to be a new Cold War.”
Joe Biden met President Xi Jinping in person for the first time as president on Monday at the G20 conference in Bali, Indonesia. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and both leaders want the world to know it.
“As leaders of our two nations, I believe we share a responsibility to demonstrate that China and the United States can manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything close to conflict, and find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” Biden said Monday.
Xi agreed, saying the two nations needed to improve their performance in meeting global expectations: “We need to identify the appropriate path for the bilateral partnership moving ahead and elevate the relationship,” he added.
Biden entered having recently escalated the economic battle against China, with tensions over Taiwan high and many of Congress supporting a more bellicose posture. Bipartisan Washington has essentially absorbed a hawkish vision of China, which views the nation as a growing force against whom the US must prevail, whatever that means. A succession of escalatory steps has prompted some on the Chinese side to believe that the US containment policy has returned.
The Biden administration has, in many ways, doubled down on former President Donald Trump’s approach to countering China. What’s been missing is an affirmative vision of what “winning” against China would look like.
Meanwhile, Xi left China — until recently, the pandemic kept him confined to its borders. He has just further consolidated power in a third term following China’s Communist Party Congress last month.
The two have talked on Zoom in the past two years, and had met extensively during the Obama years. But for their first in-person meeting, the White House had set remarkably low expectations. “I don’t think you should look at this meeting as one in which there’s going to be specific deliverables announced,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters last week.
Instead, their meeting was spent attempting to establish the parameters of their increasingly strained relationship. According to readouts from each nation, the two presidents met for three hours and discussed Taiwan, the situation in Ukraine, and a variety of other issues. Biden told reporters on Monday that he and Xi had agreed to meet with Cabinet secretaries and other high-level officials to continue addressing remaining concerns.
The encounter underscores the heightened stresses that today define the US-China relationship — and how critical it is to maintain the existing power balance, however precarious it may be. Détente, much alone a new vision of solid and productive relationships, appears to be a long way off.
“To put a fine point on it, it’s an inflection point, because the relationship stands at a point at which it could spiral downward very, very rapidly,” Evan Medeiros, a Georgetown professor who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, said last week. “There is a 1950s quality to the US-China competition.”
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