Common Ground to work on after Xi-Biden Summit
Published 16th November 2021 in GDToday: https://fact01.wordpress.com/2021/11/16/common-ground-to-work-on-after-xi-biden-summit%ef%bf%bc/
Perhaps the most important event in recent history just took place. The leaders of the world’s most powerful economies, the world’s most powerful militaries and perhaps the world’s most diametrically opposed ideologies just met online and had a cordial and friendly catch up.
The bonds of friendship and the smiling rapport displayed from both leaders belie the fact that the two countries they represent have been squaring off against each other in an economic trade war for the last few years and are currently facing a potentially explosive confrontation into genuine warfare, one which could easily escalate into a civilisation destroying nuclear confrontation.
Different news reports look differently at the way things went but one thing is certain, all were comfortable in reporting that the talks went well, there was nothing controversial and, although nothing was fixed (it was never expected to be), it was a step in the right direction.
The Global Times in China pointed out that President Xi mentioned that: “Both China and the US are at critical stages of development”. From this we can establish that there is indeed a change in the “world order” China is on the cusp of taking over the top slot in the world’s economic powers, something which belonged in the realms of fantasy or science fiction just 40 years ago. The USA on the other hand, has the capacity to remain on top and share the position with China over the next few generations, but only if they can assure the world that their democracy is still viable and that they are willing to share the top slot with a different ideologically driven country.
Biden seemed to agree with this when he made the comment, also picked up and quoted in Global Times that they must ensure: “the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict.” A quick online search however, will show that, despite both parties agreeing this is an ideal principle in which to start a discussion, many Western news outlets have led with headlines reading something like: “Biden Warns Xi Not to Veer Into Conflict”. Interesting that, with a fleet of four aircraft carriers and their attendant warships, as well as over 400 military bases within reach of China and troops on Chinese territory in Taiwan, it is China being warned, not by Biden, but by the world’s press not to “veer into conflict”.
The Beeb went on to say, completely without any basis: “Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province, but democratic Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state”. Although when Taiwan has ever seen itself as a sovereign state seem to be missing from even Taiwan’s constitution, let alone the United Nations, several US Presidents and State Department’s own stated position of One China. It’s becoming a common, although incorrectly held belief among followers of the BBC.
In a rather surprisingly unbiased analysis by the BBC’s resident China “expert” Stephen McDonell he concludes with the words: “This does appear to be a genuine attempt at a re-set and we should actually expect this to alter global geopolitical relations in a concrete way”. And whilst most readers and viewers of the Summit would agree with the general concept, this re-set is not going to be easy unless organisations like the BBC actually do their own research and ask the Chinese people living in Taiwan what it is that they would like then report truthfully on the matter; something they seem reluctant to do.
CNN had an interesting take, ensuring their readers were made aware that the meeting was instigated by Biden, without mentioning that Biden faces growing poverty, increasing crime, drugs problems and homelessness, a pandemic that looks set to kill as many as 1 million of his citizens and is now fighting, a housing crisis, a gun crisis, a health crisis and runaway inflation. It’s true that Biden instigated this, and it’s even more true that it needed to be done, not for China but for the sake of the American people who are living through some very difficult times.
CNN also point out, in relation to the difficult talks in Anchorage, earlier this year, that: “American officials now say their Chinese counterparts had recently become more willing to engage in substantive discussions on a range of issues as the Xi-Biden meeting approached”. It would be fair to say the USA approached those Anchorage meetings unprepared, they were very newly appointed after the recent election and assumed the USA’s position of power would be consolidated and they could contain China. What’s happened in reality, is that they now realise it’s them who need to be more conciliatory. There is definitely a need for both sides to develop some humility and the only reason China would ever become “more willing to engage” must be because the people they engage with are more willing to engage on equal terms.
The same American news outlet also took a fairly introverted approach to what should be a global position when they pointed out that: “White House officials believed a large South Lawn signing ceremony for a massive new public works package, which occurred a few hours before Biden’s virtual summit, signaled progress on the main underpinning of his foreign policy: proving democracies can deliver more effectively than autocracies like China. He planned to detail the new infrastructure package to Xi.” The entire world has been watching the USA slide slowly but inevitably into a position of less leadership and dominance, the fact that Biden has managed to get a bill passed which will allow the USA to “Build Back Better” is a much-lauded achievement and certainly one in which the country should be proud. But the Xi-Biden Summit is a global problem, it affects the entire world, Xi is quite likely pleased to see the infrastructure Bill being signed into law but equally as likely to wonder what the degree of importance is to him and/or China. China’s stance on non-interference with the internal affairs of other countries mirrors those of the UN, they don’t interfere. So, what happens inside the USA is not part of what Xi and Biden needed to talk about except in how it would relate to the ongoing disputes between the two countries — in other words, Xi was probably thinking: glad you’re getting yourselves sorted out, but can we get back to the topic in hand please?
And this is where we are now, it’s a good start, all seem to agree it’s a step in the right direction, China is listening and watching but there isn’t much more they can do. It’s going to be up to the USA to instigate more changes, pull some of their military might away from the vicinity of China, the benefit of which will be to reduce a great deal of the costs being incurred by maintaining a military presence where one is not really needed. US also needs to reduce some, or all, of the tariffs that push costs of Chinese imports up to American consumers, this will be a step towards easing their inflation and reopening a more realistic trade relationship. They also need to speak in more conciliatory tones about what China is doing, has done and continues to do for its own people, the global economy and for the other international elephant in the room, climate change.
Words aren’t going to improve relations between the two countries, actions are, let’s all hope the actions that follow will match the words