Whenever President Biden deals with his Beijing buddy, he comes off second best.
Since becoming the US chief executive, President Biden will for the first time meet with China’s President Xi Jinping face to face. The discussion between the two world leaders will take place in Bali, Indonesia, at the conference of the G20 intergovernmental forum on Nov. 14. President Biden has not shown well in past virtual meetings between the two presidents, prompting observers to wonder whether he will be seen as punching above his weight class again. Following the July 28 call between Biden and Xi, the Chinese media got out first with a plethora of threats regarding Taiwan, leaving the US national security team struggling to put a happy face on the conversation.
The White House announcement on this meeting downplayed any substantive progress on alleviating the adversarial relationship between Washington and Beijing. “The Leaders will discuss efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication between the United States and the PRC, responsibly manage competition, and work together where our interests align, especially on transnational challenges that affect the international community,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a press statement. She added the two presidents would also discuss “a range of regional and global issues.”
Looking for Red Lines with Xi Jinping
In televised remarks before he left on his G20 trip, Biden said he told the Chinese he’s looking for “[C]ompetition, not conflict. So, what I want to do with him [Xi] when we talk, is to lay out what each of our red lines is. Understand what he believes to be in the critical national interest of China; what I know to be the critical interests of the United States.”
Reports from the White House suggest there will be no Biden or foreign policy team press debrief immediately following the meeting. Instead, national Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters there would be meetings with Taiwan officials to go over what was said. As Sullivan explained, the point of talking with the Taipei government is to assuage any fears they might have that the US would back away from Washington’s strong support in defense of the democratic island nation.
As expected, the notion the US would report back to Taiwan on the US-China meeting drew a strong reaction from Beijing. “Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said any such briefing by the United States for Taiwan would violate a US promise to maintain only non-official contacts with the island,” Reuters reported. This response from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) foreign ministry comes when interactions between the two nations are as strained as at any time in recent history. The Chinese regime’s behavior on human rights, stealing US intellectual property, predatory trade practices, and PRC claims of sovereignty over Taiwan have driven a large wedge between the US and China. Nonetheless, some national security commentators believe Biden should press Xi Jinping on issues important to the US. Climate change is not among them.
China’s increasing support for Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, as well as the origins and complicity of the PRC in spreading the COVID-19 pandemic, are “critical issues to America,” retired US Army Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg told Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business. Kellogg insisted that talking about climate change was the wrong priority since it was by no means an imperative for Americans when other, more menacing issues loom. “Here we have a country of 23 million, Taiwan, it’s a democratically elected government, and we keep talking about a ‘One China policy’ that actually Taiwan is part of China,” Kellogg said. “Well, they really haven’t been for the last 70 years.”
Others look at the upcoming meeting with underwhelming expectations. President Biden’s performances on the world stage have not been inspiring. “[Biden must project] strength, and all he projects is weakness. And that invites aggression. And that is why we are in so much trouble,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), heir apparent to the House Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship, told Fox Digital. McCaul elaborated on his concerns. “I would hope he’s projecting deterrence to aggression and strength. But this administration doesn’t seem capable of doing that.”
If the history of meetings between China and the US is any indicator, this one will be a nothing burger. But before the seats around the negotiating table are cool, the CCP will have its spin out on the airwaves.