WORLD NEWS Vantage: What 'dictator' Xi got after meeting 'friend' Biden

Vantage: What ‘dictator’ Xi got after meeting ‘friend’ Biden


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US President Joe Biden meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of APEC summit, 15 November 2023. Image courtesy: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

After a long time, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden finally came face-to-face. This was supposed to be an important summit, but the world had low expectations. And it ended with no significant outcomes. There were no big diplomatic breakthroughs.

If anything, the summit only reaffirmed their differences, and soon after the talks were over, Biden called Xi Jinping a ‘dictator’.

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“Well, look, he is I mean, he’s a dictator in the sense that he is the guy who runs a country that is a communist country,” said the US president while answering a question asked by a reporter asking if he will still call Xi a dictator, a term Biden had used earlier this year.

The meeting started on a different note, though. Biden was far more friendly around Xi Jinping. The two leaders took a walk together. And shared a joke about a photograph that was taken more than 30 years ago, when Xi had visited San Francisco. Also, as his wife will celebrate her birthday in four days, Biden reminded Xi to get her a card. Later, Xi invited Biden to take a look at his car, and the US president was impressed.

Inside the summit room, they adopted a different tone. Xi and Biden met for about four hours. The conversation was said to be candid, especially on the issue of Taiwan. It’s one of the biggest sticking points between them. Xi Jinping told Joe Biden that Taiwan was the biggest and most dangerous issue. Obviously, he was hinting at the threat of invasion. In recent years, the threat has become more pronounced. Mainly due to China’s repeated provocations, like the dangerous drills near the island. Xi Jinping’s words have only heightened fears.

On multiple occasions, he has told his army to “prepare for war”. So is he preparing to invade Taiwan? He did not give a clear answer to Biden. He said he wants “peaceful reunification”, but would use force under certain conditions. And what are these conditions? Neither side bothered to spell it out. It was most likely about America’s military support to Taiwan. That is the red line for Beijing.

There is a presidential election in Taiwan next year. That too came up for discussion. Biden told Xi to not interfere, and Taiwan welcomed the statement.

The next big talking point was trade. Here, China has a list of complaints. Biden has restricted American investments in China. Xi Jinping said they damage Chinese interests, and this was perhaps the most important issue for him because the Chinese economy is not in the best shape. The growth has slowed, there is widespread unemployment, and the crackdowns are making investors flee. So Xi Jinping needs a lifeline. But did America give it? Well, there is no relief from sanctions. They have only decided to expand the dialogue, as they put it.

“This morning, President [Joe] Biden and I agreed to promote dialogue and cooperation based on the principles of mutual respect in diplomacy, trade, people-to-people exchange, education, science and technology, agriculture, military, law enforcement, artificial intelligence, etc. We agreed to make the cooperation list longer, and the pie of cooperation bigger,” said the Chinese president. Xi wants trade and what’s he offering in return? Pandas. They are supposed to be China’s token of friendship. The last Chinese pandas in America had a controversial exit. One of them died. Now Xi is offering to send another pair. It makes for a nice token, but it’s hardly enough to restore trust. Joe Biden was asked about whether he trusts Xi, and the American president said, “Look, do I trust Xi? I trust but verify as you know, same goes. That’s where I am. And, you know, we are in a competitive relationship, China and the United States.”

The lack of trust is apparent, and that reflects in the rest of the outcomes. It was a mixed bag.

The US and China are resuming military dialogue. Biden said he can now pick up the phone and speak directly to Xi Jinping. Their defence ministers will hold a meeting as well, but that may not happen soon. Last month, China sacked its defence minister. They are yet to reveal why. Apparently, he was the target of a purge; he’s being investigated for corruption, and his replacement is yet to be named.

So the US will have to wait for that appointment now. Before Xi Jinping landed in the US, there was talk of a deal on artificial intelligence, but that didn’t happen.

They also discussed the situation in West Asia. Biden expressed concern. There is a risk of a wider regional conflict. American forces are already under attack in Iraq and Syria. So Biden asked Xi to speak to Tehran. To impress upon the regime the risks of a bigger conflict, and Xi Jinping seemed willing. Chinese officials say they will engage with Iran.

So both China and the US have something to walk away with. Biden gets his hotline with Beijing, and Xi Jinping gets some relief on the economic front. Biden may have pursued this meeting, but, all things considered, it was more important for Xi. The Communist Party draws its power from the economy, and Xi’s erratic moves have caused much damage. So after meeting Biden, he met America’s top business leaders—about 300 of them.

They attended an event with Xi; the list included Tim Cook and Elon Musk, and what did the Chinese president tell them? Two things: China is a big market and a friend of America. It is a hard sell. But Xi must try to fix what he broke. He got a standing ovation for his speech. But can corporate America rescue his economy? And his ties with Washington? We won’t put our money on it.

Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.

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