US-China video summit could help rival powers 'manage their differences': analysts

The three-hour meeting underscored major differences over Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
By Qiao Long, Gigi Lee, Raymond Chung and Paul Eckert
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US-China video summit could help rival powers 'manage their differences': analysts U.S. President Joe Biden meets with China's President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, Nov. 15, 2021.

UPDATED at 12:40 pm EST on 2021-11-16

The three-hour remote summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Tuesday will likely enable the two rival powers to better manage competition and prevent escalation of tensions over trade, Taiwan and geopolitics, commentators said.

With friction over a trade war, Beijing's threat that it may invade democratic Taiwan, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s human rights record hanging over the first lengthy encounter since Biden took office in January, the two leaders opened their virtual meeting with a cordial tone.

"We've spent an awful lot of time talking to one another, and I hope we can have a candid conversation tonight as well," Biden said from the White House as the talks started, a reference to the two men’s frequent meetings when both were vice-presidents of their countries a decade ago.

"As I've said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure the competition between our two countries does not veer into conflict, either intended or unintended. Just simply straightforward competition," he said.

"It seems to me we have to establish some common sense guardrails, to be clear and honest where we disagree and work together where our interests intersect," added Biden, whose remarks were translated for Xi.

"Although it's not as good as a face-to-face meeting," Xi said from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. "I'm very happy to see my old friend."

Independent political commentator Wu Qiang said the summit would likely help the two countries to manage their differences rather than resolving them.

"The main uncertainty plaguing Sino-U.S. relations during the past year since Biden took office has been the inability to schedule a summit meeting between the two [leaders]," Wu told RFA.

"Now, the two sides have confirmed that the relationship is far from normal; even dangerous, and they have finally realized that they need to manage their differences."

Wu said China increasingly sees the Indo-Pacific region as its proper sphere of influence, and will seek to force the U.S. to pull back from the region.

"The long-term strategic consideration on the Chinese side would appear to be the wish to retreat into [relative] isolationism on both sides, with [parallel] world orders governed by itself and the U.S.," he said.

Liu Mengxiong, a former adviser to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), said the two sides also seemed willing to improve cooperation in some areas, despite their differences.

"Both sides can communicate, manage their differences, expand cooperation; mutually beneficial cooperation would be a good thing," Liu said. "If Sino-U.S. tensions ease, I also believe that Beijing will be less worried about foreign powers fomenting color revolution in Hong Kong."

In what White House officials later called a "healthy debate" in a "respectful and straightforward” tone in talks that  ran more than ran more than three-and-a-half hours, Biden raised U.S. concerns about human rights -- including its handling of Tibet, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang – as well as Taiwan and trade issues, the officials said.

The two leaders also discussed Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, world energy markets, trade, climate, and military issues, U.S. officials said.

Differences over Taiwan

A Chinese state media readout of the talks said Xi stressed China’s longstanding red line on Taiwan.

Xi said those in Taiwan who seek independence, and their backers in the United States, are "playing with fire," according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

"China is patient and seeks peaceful reunification with great sincerity and effort, but if Taiwan secessionists provoke, or even cross the red line, we will have to take decisive measures," it reported.

But Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou thanked Biden for conveying to Xi that U.S. support for Taiwan would remain unchanged.

"Since President Biden took office, the United States has publicly emphasized on a number of occasions that its support for Taiwan is rock-solid, and has also taken concrete action to support Taiwan, and maintain stability in the Taiwan Strait," Ou said.

"We ... will continue to strengthen our capacity to defend ourselves, and to uphold Taiwan's free and democratic society," she said, calling on Beijing to "resolve differences through dialogue."

China has refused to rule out the use of force to annex Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the CCP, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.

Chiu Chui-cheng, Taiwan spokesman on relations with China, said Xi's comments at the summit aimed to confuse the international community.

"The Republic of China [which controls the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu] is a sovereign and independent country," Chiu said. "Taiwan has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China."

"Taiwan’s 23 million people will steadfastly defend their sovereignty, their dignity, and their democratic way of life," he said. "We call on the CCP leaders to respect that and drop its threats and hostility."

China accuses Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under president Tsai Ing-wen of promoting "separatism" from China, but Tsai has repeatedly refused to entertain Beijing's claims, saying that the democratic, self-governing island’s 23 million people have no wish to live under Beijing’s authoritarian rule.

Biden restated Washington's position that it officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, while adding that Washington "strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," the White House said.

The CCP-backed Global Times newspaper said the Biden administration should avoid "petty calculations."

"With this virtual meeting serving as a watershed moment, we can posit that: if the next stage of China-US relations can have more stability and predictability, and less turbulence, and if they can have broader cooperation, as well as handle differences more properly, the Biden administration will deserve more strategic trust and respect," it said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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Michael R Betzer
Nov 16, 2021 07:52 PM

"Just simply straightfoward competiton"? Just what does President Biden think has been happening for the last 40 Years?