Since Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden had their meeting in San Francisco, Chinese mainstream media has been stressing the significance of the summit.
On 18 November, the People’s Daily said that the summit reached consensus on more than 20 issues covering various areas of global governance and the world order, bringing stability and positive energy to a world filled with chaos and change.
That same day, CCTV’s current affairs and news website (《时政新闻眼》) published an article saying that Xi’s trip to San Francisco will have a place in history as a visit that played an extraordinary role in shaping China-US relations and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, and which injected certainty and enhanced stability in a turbulent and changing world.
However, discordant voices in China-US relations remain. On 15 November after the Xi-Biden meeting ended, reporters asked Biden at a press conference if he would still refer to President Xi as a “dictator”.
Biden replied, “I mean, he’s a dictator in the sense that he — he is a guy who runs a country that — it’s a communist country that is based on a form of government totally different than ours.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning responded, “This kind of speech is extremely wrong and is irresponsible political manipulation. China firmly opposes it.”
... while the Xi-Biden summit was successfully held, the US’s Taiwan policy has not changed and neither will the US yield to mainland China’s request to give up plans to sell arms to Taiwan.
During a press conference held two days after the Xi-Biden summit, White House coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council John Kirby said that the US plans to continue arming Taiwan to ensure its self-defence capabilities.
Mao rebuked, “The Taiwan question remains the most important and most sensitive issue in China-US relations. The US needs to deliver on its pledge of not supporting ‘Taiwan independence’ with concrete actions, stop arming Taiwan, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and support China’s peaceful reunification.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense issued a press statement on 19 November stating that from 7 am that day, the island detected mainland Chinese aircraft, including the Su-30, J-10, KJ-500, Y-8 and Y-9, among which nine crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, while warships carried out “combat readiness patrols”.
Taiwan’s defence ministry pointed out that the mainland is continuing to send warplanes and warships around the Taiwan Strait, undermining regional stability.
Clearly, while the Xi-Biden summit was successfully held, the US’s Taiwan policy has not changed and neither will the US yield to mainland China’s request to give up plans to sell arms to Taiwan. Meanwhile, mainland China will not relax its vigilance and deterrence against “Taiwan independence” either. Indeed, China and the US will continue to butt heads over the Taiwan issue.
Xi made the most of his trip to the US to stress the value of people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.
However, this does not mean that the Xi-Biden summit had more form than substance. Overall, the meeting, which displayed friendly gestures and achieved practical results, provided a new opportunity for both sides to enhance understanding, reduce miscalculations and increase cooperation. It also played a positive role in stabilising China-US relations, which have been trapped in a downward spiral in recent years.
Both Biden and Xi came fully prepared to show their friendliness. Biden pulled out a photo of Xi taken near the Golden Gate Bridge 38 years ago, and Xi reminisced about his “youthful prime”. The two leaders even took a walk together after the meeting, with Biden accompanying Xi to his China-made Hongqi car — even praising it as a “beautiful vehicle” — and watching as the car drove off.
Xi made the most of his trip to the US to stress the value of people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. In his speech at the welcome dinner hosted by friendly organisations in the US, he mentioned the word “people” (人民) more than 60 times. He stressed that the foundation of China-US relations was laid by the two peoples, the door of China-US relations was opened by the two peoples, the stories of China-US relations are written by the two peoples, and the future of China-US relations will be created by the two peoples.
Xi also touched on his role in the people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. He stated, “During my first visit to the United States, I stayed at the Dvorchaks in Iowa. I still remember their address — 2911 Bonnie Drive. That was my first face-to-face contact with the Americans. The days I spent with them are unforgettable. For me, they represent America.”
... the resumption of dialogue between both militaries, in turn avoiding a case of accidental conflict, is one of the key guardrails in China-US relations.
Such sentimental stories were applauded by Americans in the audience, and also presented an image of China far more effectively than many empty grand narratives.
The resumption of dialogue between the Chinese and US militaries could top the list of concrete achievements following the Xi-Biden meeting. Since August 2022, when then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, exchanges between Chinese and US militaries were halted, heightening the possibility of accidents occurring between Chinese and US aircraft and naval vessels in the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea and other areas.
Any such accidents could result in unpredictable consequences for China-US relations and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. In fact, both sides were extremely concerned about the situation. Suffice to say that the resumption of dialogue between both militaries, in turn avoiding a case of accidental conflict, is one of the key guardrails in China-US relations.
China and the US are clearly unable to come to an agreement on Taiwan, the South China Sea and other issues in the short term and will most likely continue to butt heads over them in the future. Hence, the resumption of dialogue between both militaries will effectively help to avoid any “hot conflicts” due to accidents or miscalculations. It is also anticipated that the relationship between the two militaries will once more act as a ballast in bilateral relations.
... the Xi-Biden meeting did not — nor would it be possible to — eliminate strategic and structural competition and conflict between China and the US.
The Biden administration also requested that both sides resume cooperation on anti-drug matters. The US had accused China of refusing to cooperate on the control of fentanyl precursors, thus resulting in the proliferation of fentanyl-related drugs in the US. During the Xi-Biden meeting, the two sides reached an agreement to resume cooperation, with the US immediately declaring that it would remove the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science from a trade sanctions list. China is expected to tighten control over the export of fentanyl precursors.
Also, the meeting saw agreements reached on increasing flights between China and the US, as well as the expansion of exchanges in the education, culture, sports and business sectors among other people-to-people exchanges. The increase in such exchanges will also help stabilise China-US relations and prevent it from spiralling.
Of course, the Xi-Biden meeting did not — nor would it be possible to — eliminate strategic and structural competition and conflict between China and the US. Future China-US relations will also not be free of competition or possible clashes.
This meeting proved once more that as long as both sides are willing to speak with one another, while China-US relations might not “improve” because of dialogue, it would at the very least not spiral out of control.
This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as “中美关系能否止跌企稳？”.