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US President Biden and Chinese President Xi are meeting today in Bali. It’s the first time the two most powerful men on earth have met as heads of state, but expectations aren’t high in the lead up to their meeting. The highest achievable, it seems, is to discuss the so-called crash barriers; A conversation that should ensure that the relationship between the world’s largest economies is not derailed any further.
Xi, who cemented his power domestically last month by securing a highly unusual third term as party chief, is heading out again. After nearly three years of self-isolation, he was seen earlier this fall at a regional summit in Uzbekistan visited by German Chancellor Olaf Schulz. Now, party chief Xi is visiting Bali for his first meeting with leaders of the world’s largest economies in three years.
Biden and Xi will have few illusions before the G-20. With both men on, there isn’t much in the bags to provide new impetus to the cold relationship.
“It’s hard to see any willingness on the part of either country to stop the downward spiral,” said Bruce Dixon, a professor of political science at George Washington University. “It seems that the more moderate voices have been pushed aside.”
‘all or nothing’
After US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, an already fragile relationship has further cooled. China has hinted that the relationship with the United States is not an a la carte: for Beijing it is all or nothing, Washington insists.
However, he’s not entirely silent on the line: US climate envoy John Kerry has met China’s climate man, Xi Jinhua, several times at the Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Summit. It was the first time since President Trump’s US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.
For China, the G-20 should revolve around the Corona pandemic, a pandemic that continues to disrupt daily life in China in the form of harsh lockdowns and far-reaching travel restrictions. About the economic recovery, the recovery that you so desperately craved in our country. And about the climate.
“Earth is the home we all live in. We need to move toward a common future for humanity,” Xi said at the G-20 summit in Rome last year, a summit he attended via video link. “We need to strengthen economic cooperation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said when asked about China’s commitment to the G20.
These are the topics that Beijing loves to talk about. Beijing in particular does not want geopolitics to overshadow the G-20, so it is promoted in Chinese state media. However, Beijing will still prefer talking about Ukraine over human rights abuses in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong or the situation around Taiwan, which Xi has always dismissed as an ‘internal issue’. Each of these topics that the Biden administration put on the agenda for today’s meeting.
The two men know each other well, since Biden was Vice President (2009-2017). As chiefs, they have spoken to each other five times so far, on the phone and on video calls. It didn’t pay off much, as expectations remain low.
Confrontation prevails, as evidenced by the series of US sanctions that should affect the Chinese chip industry. Zhao said China and the United States should avoid “misunderstanding and miscalculation,” and hoped that the mutual relations would be put on the “correct track” of “healthy and steady” development.