Biden and Xi did not speak to each other for twelve months. Now there is a meeting. The goal: the tough competition between Washington and Beijing should not become a real conflict.
US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in California for their first face-to-face exchange in a year to stabilize relations between the two countries. The two heads of state met at a magnificent estate south of San Francisco and greeted each other with a handshake. They wanted to discuss various controversial topics.
At the start of the meeting, Biden said that the USA and China do not always see eye to eye. But the conversations with each other in the past were “sincere” and “open.” It is crucial to avoid misunderstandings or miscommunication between Beijing and Washington. According to the translation, Xi emphasized that the relationship between the two countries is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. It is therefore not an option for two large countries like China and the USA to turn their backs on each other.
The relationship between the USA and China has long been very tense. Biden and Xi have not seen each other in person or spoken since the G20 summit in Bali in November 2022. There have been various meetings and discussions between high-ranking government representatives from both sides in recent months, but no direct exchange between the two presidents.
The two met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco. However, Biden received Xi at a separate location, in a tranquil setting, 45 kilometers from San Francisco. The two wanted to take several hours there to talk in detail about a whole range of topics and points of contention.
The US government expects the meeting, among other things, to reach an agreement on the fight against drug smuggling into the United States and hopes to revive communication between the armed forces of both countries. Overall, the USA is concerned with steering the relationship into an orderly direction and preventing the tough competition from drifting into a real conflict. An overview of the most important topics and points of contention at the meeting:
economy and trade
Washington and Beijing have been embroiled in a trade conflict for years. Biden left in place punitive tariffs against China that his predecessor, Donald Trump, had introduced. The US also imposed economic sanctions and export restrictions to make it more difficult for Beijing to access US technologies. Most recently, the government also introduced restrictions on US investments in China. Biden also initiated large-scale investments at home to make America’s supply chains more independent – especially from China. However, both countries are closely intertwined economically. China is one of the three largest trading partners for the USA. A tense relationship between the two largest economies is bad for the global economy. However, a high-ranking government official dampened expectations of a resolution to the trade conflict and said that a review of the punitive tariffs would probably not be completed until the end of the year.
The US government accuses China of contributing significantly to America’s drug epidemic – through the production of fentanyl, which is reaching the US in mass quantities. The synthetic opioid is 50 times more powerful than heroin and has led to a devastating drug crisis in the United States. According to the US government, the drug is now the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 49 nationwide. The number of people dying from fentanyl overdoses has exploded in recent years. US authorities accuse Beijing of claiming that much of the fentanyl or its components that are trafficked into the US via Mexican cartels comes from China. Beijing has so far defended itself against such accusations and asserted that the country has the strictest drug policy in the world. However, a senior US government official held out the prospect of an agreement that would include steps “on both sides”. If Biden can persuade Xi to make concessions on this issue, it would be significant for him domestically, especially with a view to the 2024 US election.
The issue of Taiwan has great potential for conflict. The island republic, which is only separated from China by a strait, has had a democratic government for decades. However, China sees Taiwan, with its more than 23 million inhabitants, as part of its territory. The area is often the scene of military demonstrations of power. There are concerns that China could invade Taiwan like Russia invaded Ukraine. Biden has promised Taiwan military support from US troops in such an event. Beijing, in turn, prohibits any US “interference” in internal affairs.
Beijing’s stance in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is met with criticism because China appears neutral to the outside world, but at the same time is considered Russia’s most important partner and thus provides Moscow with support. At the same time, China is considered an important country for exerting influence on Russia due to its proximity to Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin. Biden could try to persuade Xi to take advantage of this.
Israel’s war against the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip is also likely to be discussed. As an important buyer of Iranian oil, China is said to have influence on Tehran. Iran, in turn, supports Hamas and various other groups in the region and there are growing concerns that the Gaza war could escalate into a larger conflict in the Middle East. Since the beginning of the Gaza war, pro-Iranian groups have increased attacks on US military bases in Syria and Iraq – the Americans responded with air strikes against Iran-aligned groups in Syria. The situation is tense. Here too, Biden could personally call on Xi to have a de-escalatory effect.
Espionage and the balloon thing
At the beginning of the year, a huge Chinese surveillance balloon appeared over US territory. At the time, the USA accused Beijing of a large-scale espionage program and shot down the balloon. China rejected the allegations, spoke of a weather balloon that had gone off course and complained about an overreaction. The incident sent relations between the countries to a low point. It took months until things had calmed down somewhat.
Communication between armed forces
The USA is hoping for progress in communication between the armed forces of both countries. The US government has recently complained several times that direct military communication with China is not working – for example in the case of the balloon – and that this could lead to dangerous misunderstandings. Beijing had turned down requests for talks at defense minister level. The US official said Biden wanted to raise the issue forcefully.
A less confrontational sign of the state of China’s relations with other countries is the question of who Beijing is considering with pandas. The animals are considered symbols of friendship between China and the countries to which they are loaned. There has been “panda diplomacy” for many years. The USA recently suffered a setback here: a few days ago, the zoo in the capital Washington had to say goodbye to its beloved pandas, which were ordered back to China. Some people hope that the meeting of presidents could at least bring a concrete result at this point.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.