U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping recently held a highly anticipated summit, marking their first face-to-face meeting in a year. The talks, which lasted for four hours, resulted in some breakthroughs, but significant differences on the issue of Taiwan remain between the two leaders.
The White House expressed its satisfaction with the outcome of the summit, with President Biden stating that he was very satisfied with the discussions. The primary objective of the meeting was to ensure the safeguarding of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China and to avoid any unwanted crises, especially in the lead-up to key election years for both countries.
One of the crucial aspects of the summit was the agreement reached on military communications. While not all military communications were reestablished, Biden received Chinese approval to restore some channels. Additionally, commitments were made to combat the trafficking of fentanyl and establish a working group on artificial intelligence in defense. However, the differing communiqués released by both leaders clearly indicated that there are still significant differences on the issue of Taiwan.
The summit served as a firewall in what has been described as the most important bilateral relationship in the world by President Xi. It helped ease tensions that had been escalating between the U.S. and China, as the relationship between the two superpowers had reached its lowest point in recent times. Both leaders emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication and avoiding any potential misunderstandings that could lead to trouble.
The timing of this summit was crucial for both countries. China, struggling with a sluggish economy, needs investment from U.S. businesses, while the United States, preoccupied with conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, seeks stability in the Pacific region. Furthermore, upcoming elections in Taiwan in January 2022 and the U.S. presidential elections in November 2024 added significant significance to the discussions.
Experts believe that this summit was the last opportunity to address the strained relationship between the U.S. and China. It is unlikely that President Biden will travel to Asia next year, and it is also unlikely that he will accept an invitation to visit Beijing or that President Xi will be invited to Washington. Therefore, it was crucial to establish a firewall between the two nations at this time.
Despite the achievements of the summit, there are still areas of significant disagreement. The most evident point of contention is Taiwan, which Xi referred to as the most potentially dangerous issue in the relationship. While he expressed a preference for peaceful unification, he also stated that conditions for the use of force could exist, without elaborating on these conditions. The Chinese Foreign Ministry communiqué highlighted Xi’s demand for the United States to stop providing weapons to Taiwan.
On the other hand, President Biden raised concerns regarding China’s human rights record, economic and trade practices, and its support for Russia. The summit made it clear that mutual suspicion between the two governments remains, as President Biden stated that he considers Xi to be a dictator due to the nature of China’s communist government.
Despite the discrepancies, the summit did result in areas of cooperation. Both countries agreed to accelerate renewables and reduce fossil fuel consumption, signed an agreement to combat fentanyl manufacturing, and made progress toward establishing a working group on artificial intelligence in defense. However, experts have expressed skepticism about the true intentions behind this agreement, suggesting that it may serve as more of an intelligence-gathering operation for China rather than a genuine attempt at collaboration.
In terms of military discussions, while some channels were reinstated, full restoration will not be realized. Three levels of dialogue are being reinstated, including contact between the respective navies in the Pacific and talks between the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the Chinese Minister of Defense. However, a key dialogue between the Pentagon and the Central Military Commission remains suspended.
In conclusion, the U.S.-China summit successfully achieved some breakthroughs and eased tensions between the two superpowers. The leaders emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to avoid potential crises. However, significant differences remain, particularly regarding Taiwan. While areas of cooperation were established, mutual suspicion and disagreement on various issues indicate that the relationship between the U.S. and China remains complex and challenging.