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What to expect from the Biden-Xi Virtual Summit

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Amy Mackinnon

US President Joe Biden will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping for a virtual summit on Monday evening, the White House announced on Friday, at a time of escalating tensions over Taiwan, human rights and the South China Sea that could contribute , some guard rails around a relationship of global importance.

The meeting, the first telephone conversation between the two heads of state and government in February and September, takes place amid the premonitions of a new Cold War as Beijing rapidly builds its military and economic capabilities . Despite some kind of relaxation at the recent UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the enmity between the world’s two superpowers has only grown. Chinese fighter jets have flown a record number of flights over Taiwan in the past few months, and trade tensions have not eased. China’s nuclear arsenal, though smaller than America’s, is catching up – as are its missiles.

A US Congress delegation arrived in Taiwan on a US military plane on Tuesday, a trip quickly condemned by the Chinese Defense Department; China regards Taiwan, which was never ruled by the People’s Republic of China, as part of its territory. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army was conducting readiness exercises near the Taiwan Strait. The United States is a staunch advocate of the island’s right to self-determination, but has deliberately made vague statements as to whether it would be embroiled in a war for Taiwan’s future – which will be four decades of strategic ambiguity.

US President Joe Biden Meet Chinese President Xi Jinping for a virtual summit on Monday evening, the White House announced on Friday, at a time of escalating tensions over Taiwan, human rights and the South China Sea, which could help set some barriers to a relationship of global importance.

The meeting, the first phone call between the two heads of state and government in February and September, takes place amid the premonitions of a new Cold War as Beijing rapidly builds its military and economic capabilities. Despite some kind of relaxation at the recent UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the enmity between the world’s two superpowers has only grown. Chinese fighter jets have flown a record number of flights over Taiwan in the past few months, and trade tensions have not eased. China’s nuclear arsenal, though smaller than America’s, is catching up – as are its missiles.

A US Congress delegation arrived in Taiwan on a US military plane on Tuesday, a trip quickly condemned by the Chinese Defense Department; China regards Taiwan, which was never ruled by the People’s Republic of China, as part of its territory. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army was conducting readiness exercises near the Taiwan Strait. The United States is a staunch advocate of the island’s right to self-determination, but has deliberately been vague about whether it would be embroiled in a war for Taiwan’s future – the four decades of strategic ambiguity that has persisted.

« What we are looking for is effective competition with guard rails and mitigation measures to ensure conflict does not arise, « said Jake Sullivan, US National Security Advisor, in a virtual address to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute on Thursday about the broader US relationship and China.

Senior U.S. officials and a bipartisan consensus in Congress have highlighted China’s increasing assertiveness, economic power, and military build-up as the United States’s greatest national security challenge as Washington seeks to gather and join partners around the world Areas of common int eresse to work together such as climate change, public health and economic stability.

« While the Biden government has so far been very successful in forming alliances, a sustainable working relationship with China has not yet been established, largely due to Beijing’s opposition to the Biden government proposed framework, « said Patricia Kim, an expert on US-China relations at the Brookings Institution.

While expectations are subdued, Monday’s meeting provides an opportunity to reshape the relationship. At the first high-level meeting in March in Anchorage, Alaska, there was a charged exchange between leading US and Chinese diplomats. “The first nine, ten months of US-China relations [under Biden] have not been very productive. There was a lot of topic-of-conversation exchanges and high-level meetings where both sides posed and spoke in front of their home audience, ”said Bonnie Glaser, Asia Program Director at the United States’ German Marshall Fund.

In a letter to the US-China National Committee this week told Xi that China is ready to work with the United States. « At the moment China-US relations are at a critical historical point. Both countries will benefit from the cooperation and lose from the confrontation, « he said in the letter to the New York-based non-profit organization.

The two heads of state and government will meet as there is increasing recognition in both capitals that diplomatic engagement needs to be stepped up in order to avert a potentially catastrophic clash.

« The Chinese will look to realign the relationship. They really don’t like that way of describing the relationship in terms of ‘competition, confrontation, and cooperation’, ”said Carla Freeman, a senior China expert at the United States Institute of Peace.

There have been some preliminary clues in the past few months a thaw in aspects of the relationship, including the resumption of trade talks in October; and an agreement brokered by the U.S. Department of Justice that resulted in the September release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, arrested in Canada, in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition request on fraud allegations.

« That was a huge obstacle for China, and they have portrayed it domestically as such a victory, » said Glaser.

On Wednesday, the United States and China made a surprising joint statement during the UN climate summit , in which they pledged to take further action to slow global warming this decade and reduce methane and ko reduce fuel emissions. The declaration by the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters contained few details, but was seen as an important sign of Beijing and Washington’s willingness to work together on shared challenges. and heads of government can jointly reassure that neither side is looking for a conflict or a new Cold War and that they enable civil servants at the working level to lay the foundations for responsible competition, including working together. ”on pressing issues such as crisis management, non-proliferation and Climate change, ”said Kim of the Brookings Institution.

Beijing also has domestic policies that restrict it. Glaser referred to the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Beijing and next year’s party convention, which will crown Xi with an almost unprecedented third term. « The Chinese seem to be signaling that they need a favorable international environment in the coming year, and I think that’s one of the reasons they have changed their tone, at least when it comes to dealing with the US, » she said.

But in a relationship torn by strategic challenges, it may not last long. The Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, which are due to start in February 2022, are a looming stumbling block. Legislators and human rights groups have called on the Biden government not to send high-ranking officials or diplomats to the games in the Xinjiang region, which the US has labeled genocide, in protest at the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims.

Im On June 2nd, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was in consultation with allies and partners on the issue, but the government has not yet announced whether it will send a delegation to the Games.

The government has a number of strong positions on human rights in China, maintained and expanded the Trump-era sanctions related to the Xinjiang genocide, warned US companies about business safety in Hong Kong, and recently released Zhang. demanded Zhan, a citizen journalist who was jailed after reporting on the early days of the spread of COVID-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

However, Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, said she was concerned about statements by high-ranking US officials like John Kerry, Biden’s chief climate officer, who appeared to isolate human rights from other aspects of US-China relations. « According to the Chinese Communist Party, these are not different things, » said she. « We’ve been trying to make it clear for a long time that it is very difficult to have a really workable collaboration on anything … Focusing on this problem seems deeply problematic. »

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