Emperor Xi offers US President Biden virtual summit while eyeing Taiwan

The sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held from November 8 to 11, adopted the third “historic resolution” in history by anointing Xi Jinping as the supreme leader or more precisely the new emperor for life. With that done, the Chinese strongman turned to a “mundane” earthly question – meeting his American counterpart, but only virtually.

Before approaching the summit, however, it may be to consider the implications of these important internal developments. Previously, Xi had warned the world of China’s arrival – aggressive, expansionist and revisionist – by burying the Deng Xiaoping era strategy of “hide your claws, bide your time.”

He dealt Deng’s legacy yet another hard blow by abandoning his “get rich is glorious” mantra in favor of “common prosperity” ostensibly to rectify the glaring wealth disparities that have crept into society. The real reason could also be the desire to cut down on business tycoons like Jack Ma, given their growing weight. It seems to be following President Putin’s playbook, which has succeeded in curing the Russian oligarchs. It is obvious that Xi’s China is tipping towards a Maoist left. What is still not clear is whether this heralds the start of “Cultural Revolution 2.0”? In any case, the near and less close capitals are worried about the implications of the formal “coronation” of Emperor Xi, who wants to go down in history to inaugurate the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

The tangle of Taiwan

The highest on its unfinished business is the “escape” from Taiwan. While pretending to be in favor of peaceful reunification, Beijing is doing everything possible, apart from starting a conflict, to force Taiwan into submission. Violation of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADZ) and intrusions near its maritime territory, simulating an invasion of fighter jets, anti-submarine planes and combat ships, have become a routine matter. “Since 2020, the People’s Liberation Army planes and ships have dramatically increased their activity in the Taiwan Strait, with almost daily intrusions,” said President Tsai Ing-Wen, who prioritized the process. Taiwan’s military modernization.

China sent more than 200 fighter jets in four days, the highest on record, around Taiwan National Day.

The White House press secretary called the Chinese military maneuvers near Taiwan “provocative … which are destabilizing, risk miscalculations and undermine regional peace … we will continue to help Taiwan maintain sufficient self-defense capability. “. In August, the Biden administration authorized the sale of military equipment worth $ 750 million to Taiwan, including self-propelled howitzers and precise GPS-guided ammunition.

Earlier this month, PLA spokesperson Shi Yi justified the exercises and denounced the repeated collusion between the United States and Taiwan as “the greatest source of problems” for security and stability in the United States. region.

“China is much less averse to the risk of entering a conflict than previously thought,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing, earlier this month. He added that there was a feeling in the United States that Taiwan is in a hurry by China and that sympathy for its plight was growing. Nonetheless, the United States still maintained a one-China policy and did not support Taiwan’s independence.

But American sympathy alone would not be enough to save Taiwan if China decided to pull its jugular. Taiwan is not child’s play. But without swift compensatory military intervention by the United States and its allies, Taipei might not be able to hold out for too long. Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton was frank: “It would be inconceivable that we did not support the United States in action if the United States chose to take this step.

Washington would it be? The United States has adopted a policy of “strategic ambiguity”. The White House spokesman recently reiterated that the United States “will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense and will continue to oppose any unilateral change in the status quo.” This is neither sufficient assurance for Taipei nor a sufficient deterrent effect for Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a “central problem” that does not tolerate compromise.

The implicit agreement was that the United States would act if a conflict was started by Beijing until Taipei did, for example by declaring independence. However, few observers would bet their money on a timely and effective US military response. Nonetheless, it has become the main subject of controversy between the two great powers and, as expected, featured prominently at the first virtual summit between Biden and Xi on November 15.

The divide between the United States and China is widening

As Vice President during the Obama years, Joe Biden had a number of meetings with (Vice President and) President Xi Jinping. In various interviews, he said: “I spent more time with Xi Jinping, at least before our exit, than any world leader” and that “I know him quite well”.

Even though Xi called Biden “my old friend” at the start of the three-and-a-half-hour virtual meeting, he had so far shown no particular enthusiasm in meeting his American counterpart. In fact, even this meeting was proposed by the American side. Much seems to have changed in just four years. Barely three months after the start of the Trump presidency, Xi traveled to Florida to meet with him in April 2017.

In the meantime, the Chinese leader has considerably consolidated its position. His word is law in China today. Biden, on the other hand, struggles with a high 53% disapproval rate (41% in favor) according to a recent report. Washington post survey. His critics believe he is gentle on China but that strong anti-Chinese sentiment in the country, including the US Congress, has surrounded him.

This criticism seems excessive although a certain ambivalence with regard to China can be detected. The Biden administration, like its predecessor, takes tech denial seriously and prevents China from taking over tech companies. Primacy is given to the Indo-Pacific vision and two Quad summits have taken place. The AUKUS military agreement has been concluded. During a public service last month, Biden even spoke of a “pledge” to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China. The White House quickly clarified that there was “no change in our policy.”

“The meeting is broad, in-depth, frank, constructive, substantive and productive. It helps to increase mutual understanding, ”tweeted the official Chinese spokesperson after the Xi-Biden summit.

In his opening statement, Xi said, “We should each manage our internal affairs well” (short for tidying up your home and staying out of our own affairs?) And that both sides “should respect each other. “.

President Biden, according to the White House reading, reiterated that the United States “will stand up for its interests and values ​​and … advance a free, open and fair international system … He has expressed concern over the practices of the PRC in Xinjiang, Tibet. , Hong Kong… (as well as) unfair trade and economic practices. He stressed the United States’ commitment to the “one China” policy and its firm opposition to “unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Predictably, they covered the climate crisis as well as regional challenges, “including the DPRK, Afghanistan and Iran”.

The White House report shows that the conversation was frank and wide-ranging. Both sides stressed the importance of regular communication and not letting differences or competition “degenerate into conflict”.

Obviously neither side wants a conflict. Yet the divide between nations is wide and expanding. Also, China is convinced that it is a rising power while the United States is weakening and gaining time. The Biden administration sees China as a big competitor but does not want disengagement and talks about 3Cs: competition, confrontation and cooperation.

It is debatable whether the United States can still set the agenda and expect other countries, especially China, to follow suit. Hopefully this won’t be a case of “Biden move, Xi dispose!” “

The author is a former envoy to South Korea and Canada and official spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.

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Kevin E. Boling