/ 21 November 2023

Sino-US relations are on track after meeting

President Biden Meets Virtually With China's President Xi
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Roosevelt Room of the White House November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden met with his Chinese counterpart to discuss bilateral issues. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In the highly anticipated summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in San Francisco, a stabilising influence on Sino-US relations emerged. 

The leaders engaged in a candid and comprehensive exchange of perspectives, not only addressing bilateral concerns but also delving into global issues of peace and development. 

The summit resulted in an agreement to foster dialogue and collaboration across various domains, outlining key initiatives such as official government talks on artificial intelligence, a dedicated task force for counter-narcotics co-operation and the resumption of high-level military-to-military communication. 

Crucially, this resurgence includes pivotal forums such as the China-US Defense Policy Co-ordination Talks and the China-US Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings, signalling a commitment to open lines of communication. 

The establishment of a phone hotline between the two presidents further solidifies their dedication to maintaining an ongoing dialogue. Looking ahead, both leaders pledged to increase scheduled passenger flights, emphasising their commitment to enhancing people-to-people connections, and expressed a dedication to broadening exchanges in education, culture, sport and business, transcending political boundaries.

This summit conveyed a reassuring and steady message to the global audience, signifying a commitment from both China and the US to stabilise their bilateral relations and seek opportunities for collaboration. 

Beyond addressing specific issues, the meeting laid the groundwork for the future trajectory of China-US relations, setting the tone for more co-operative and constructive engagement. However, the outcomes of the summit underscored the recognition that neither Beijing nor Washington harbours unrealistic expectations for an immediate breakthrough or substantial improvement in their relations. 

The Taiwan issue, a central focus of the four-hour session, dominated discussions. Xi emphasised its significance and sensitivity in China-US relations, urging the US to cease arming Taiwan and support China’s pursuit of peaceful reunification. 

Biden reaffirmed the US’s commitment to the one-China policy and expressed a willingness to sustain open and candid communication with China, hinting at a potential “toning down” from Washington on the Taiwan matter.

This nuanced adjustment in the US’s stance on the Taiwan question adds an interesting layer to the diplomatic discourse, indicating a potential transformation. The objective appears to be to foster mutual understanding, avert misperceptions and adeptly navigate differences between the two nations, particularly regarding the Taiwan Straits. 

Factually speaking, the past year has witnessed the US adopting a palpably assertive stance towards Beijing, from trade restrictions to military surveillance and provocations in the South China Sea. The summit occurred against the backdrop of a modest “stabilisation” in relations, prompting China’s positive response to the unexpected display of “goodwill” from the US. 

The hope is that the US will exhibit less hostility in the future, allowing China to address its internal challenges within a more optimistic external environment.

In their extensive communication, the leaders addressed a broad spectrum of global challenges, including the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the crisis in Ukraine, climate change, and the issue of artificial intelligence. 

The pivotal question is whether this summit is a significant milestone in the broader trajectory of bilateral relations. The litmus test lies in whether both nations can sustain momentum and continue progressing. This juncture marks a critical moment in gauging their commitment to a constructive and enduring engagement. 

The onus lies on both presidents to inspire their respective policymakers, thinktanks and academics to explore incremental improvements in the relations between the two largest economies and military superpowers in the world, avoiding a catastrophic downward spiral. 

The shared responsibility of the two presidents is to discover how they can peacefully coexist amid the fragile global political climate and financial systems.

Xi presented a comprehensive and authoritative perspective on stabilising and improving China-US relations, emphasising the historical significance of making judicious choices, fostering constructive coexistence and envisioning a future for diplomatic ties.

This meeting holds paramount significance in bolstering trust, alleviating suspicion, managing differences, and expanding co-operation between the two economic giants, injecting a much-needed dose of certainty and stability into a world grappling with turbulence and transformation.

As the top two global economies, the fundamental question of whether China and the US are partners or rivals, and the choice between mutually beneficial co-operation and antagonism, demands careful consideration to avert disastrous mistakes. Xi cautioned against viewing each other as primary competitors, highlighting the potential pitfalls of misinformed policies and unwanted outcomes.

Turning their backs on each other is not a viable option, he emphasised, debunking the notion of one side attempting to remodel the other. He said the repercussions of conflict and confrontation would be unbearable for both nations, urging a more nuanced approach.

Xi underscored that major-country competition cannot solve the intricate problems faced by his country, the US, or the world at large. The world’s vastness allows for the coexistence and success of both nations, with one’s prosperity presenting an opportunity for the other.

China aspires to see the two countries as partners, envisioning China-US relations from the perspective of the future of humanity and the planet. This, Xi said, underscores China’s major responsibility for history, people and the world.

The guiding principles China adheres to in handling its relations with America involve mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win collaboration — lessons gleaned from over 50 years of diplomatic relations and historical conflicts between major nations.

Mutual respect serves as a foundational code of behaviour, recognising the distinct paths chosen by each country’s populace and respecting their individuality. Peaceful coexistence, a basic norm in international relations, is particularly crucial for two major nations like China and the US.

While Xi stressed his country’s commitment to a stable, healthy and sustainable relationship with the US, China has legitimate interests that require safeguarding, principles that must be upheld and red lines that must not be crossed.

Addressing differences arising from historical, cultural and social system disparities is an ongoing challenge. China is dedicated to sustaining a stable relationship but it is equally resolute in protecting its sovereignty, security and development interests.

The Taiwan question remains pivotal, and China urges the US to honour the one-China principle, oppose “Taiwan independence”, cease arming Taiwan, refrain from interfering in China’s internal affairs and support peaceful reunification, which is deemed unstoppable.

Efforts by the US to curb China on the economic, trade and technological fronts are viewed as creating risks instead of mitigating them. These actions pose the biggest risk to China-US relations, generating uncertainty that threatens the stability of the relationship.

Stifling China’s technological progress is seen as an attempt to hinder its development and deprive its people of the right to development. China rejects such efforts, asserting that its development and growing strength, driven by internal drivers, will not succumb to external forces.

A stabilising and improving China-US relationship is deemed fundamental for both countries and an aspiration of the international community. 

The journey from Bali to San Francisco has been challenging, but it should be seen as a starting point, with both sides fostering a new vision and steering their relationship towards healthy, stable and sustainable development.

Dr Imran Khalid is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. He qualified as a physician from Dow Medical University in 1991 and has a master’s degree in international relations from Karachi University.