US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they meet on the sidelines of the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia, November 14, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
BEIJING — After another rocky year of US-China tensions, the presidents of the two countries are set to meet this week in person for the second time since Joe Biden took office.
It will be a rare summit before the US presidential election cycle begins in earnest. Taking a tough stance on China, the world’s second-largest economy, has been one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement. Biden plans to run for re-election.
“The focus is on expanding the dialogue to be low[er] tail risks to the relationship and avoid a crisis that neither leader is looking for,” said Michael Hirson, head of China Research at 22V Research.
“Flashpoints such as Taiwan and the South China Sea need to be carefully managed,” he said. “For that reason the meeting is still important, especially before a politically charged 2024 that starts with a crucial presidential election in Taiwan in January and ends with the US presidential election.”
US-China tensions have risen over the past few years, starting with tariffs under the Trump administration and spilling over into broader technology restrictions under the Biden administration.
The controversy in early February over an alleged Chinese spy balloon flying over US airspace revealed how fragile relations have become – the incident prompted the two countries to suspend limited high-level talks. -conversation
In April, during that period of isolation, the Washington, DC-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies published a report who described US-China relations as seemingly “caught in a worsening vicious cycle.”
“This translates into a stalemate—and, indeed, throbbing tensions—that go beyond the usual ‘security dilemma,’ where each side takes steps to defend itself that in turn creates a lack of comfort for one, who then responds in kind. ,” the report said.
Sentiment began to improve over the summer after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken finally made a high-stakes visit to Beijing in June, followed by visits from several other senior officials.
In early October, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and five other US senators representing the Republican and Democratic parties had an 80-minute meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
But both sides are still waiting for more action.
“The current trend in China-US relations is one of easing,” said Shen Yamei, director of the department for American Studies and an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.
“This easing is a relaxation of the environment,” he said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC. “No actual change has taken place.”
He pointed out, however, that the establishment of many new communication channels means that there is much to look forward to.
At this week’s meeting, Shen expects the Chinese side to release US export controls and investment restrictions.
US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo during a trip in August “said no” to China’s requests to reduce controls and called them “matters of national security.”
Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng also raised the issues in preparatory meetings with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in San Francisco on Nov. 10, according to state media.
“Aside from Taiwan, export controls are Beijing’s main concern, but there is no political room in Washington to roll back existing controls,” Gabriel Wildau, managing director at consulting firm Teneo, said in a note. .
“The immediate result of [Biden-Xi] The meeting is likely to mark a cyclical high point for bilateral relations,” he said. “The main question is whether this high point reaches a plateau or whether political pressures trigger a new cycle of the breakdown,” he said. “As previously discussed, the period since June offers a window of opportunity to stabilize relations; following the meeting, this window may close.”
Taiwan is set to hold its presidential election in January, and a more pro-independence winner could draw Beijing’s further ire.
Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory, with no right to maintain separate diplomatic relations. The US recognizes Beijing as the sole government of China but maintains unofficial relations with Taiwan, a democratically governed island.
While speaker of the US House of Representatives in August 2021, Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. The trip prompted Beijing to suspend climate talks with the US, one of the few areas of potential cooperation.
Areas of collaboration
The Biden administration says the US is competing with China, while ensuring that it “does not deviate from the conflict.”
“The Biden-Xi meeting could include a commitment to cooperate or establish a new formal bilateral working group on the safe use of artificial intelligence,” Teneo’s Wildau said.
He added that “the two leaders could pledge to cooperate and coordinate in providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, ensure the smooth passage of grain through the Black Sea, and support post-war reconstruction in Gaza and Ukraine.”
The US remains China’s largest single-country trading partner.
However, Shen pointed out that trust between the US and China is still relatively low.
“No one believes in anything [the other] said now,” he said.
Laying the road
Goodwill efforts ramped up in the weeks leading up to the A summit is planned for Wednesday local time between Biden and Xi in San Francisco, in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.
For example, more direct flights between the US and China is continuing from a low base.
Chinese commodity importers in October signed the first agreements since 2017 to buy US agricultural products in bulk, according to a release from the US embassy in Beijing.
China’s Ministry of Commerce announced last week that it is gathering information in an effort to address unequal treatment of foreign businesses in China compared to domestic ones — a long-standing business complaint.
However, on the cultural front, the three remaining US giant pandas on loan from Beijing returned to China last week due to an expiring contract. China has loaned pandas to countries around the world as a diplomatic tool.
And in a rather dramatic development at this week’s high-level meeting, China just confirmed Xi’s upcoming travel plans on Friday night — such as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance in Beijing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its concert in the country in 1973.
That was a time where the US began to formalize its relationship with Communist-run Beijing. The two normal relationships in 1979.
Both Biden and Xi sent letters for the 50th anniversary concert, which were read before the performance.
“Despite all the ups and downs, the Philadelphia Orchestra continues to come to China,” Matias Tarnopolsky, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra, told reporters after Friday’s concert.
“Even at the worst of times the Philadelphia Orchestra comes and at the best of times the Philadelphia Orchestra comes,” Tarnopolsky said. He said the orchestra plans to return to China in 2024, and in subsequent years.