China and USA: Summit of Biden and Xi despite friendliness without a breakthrough

  • Christiane Kühl

    fromChristiane Kühl


The video summit between Biden and Xi ends without a joint explanation. But both want to manage the relationship better. They agree: the differences must not lead to a conflict.

Washington / Beijing – They spoke to each other for three and a half hours: US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping. The conversation early Tuesday morning, Central European time, was the first video summit between the two states since Biden took office and was primarily intended to calm the tense relations between the two great powers. Journalists are only allowed to be there for the first few minutes, and the White House initially only published one Transcript of the first courtesies between the two heads of state: What else we learn from the online summit therefore comes from the so-called “readouts” published separately by both sides. There was no joint declaration.

Nevertheless, both sides agree that their relationship, burdened by trade war and systemic conflict, must not escalate. Joe Biden * emphasized after White House readoutBoth heads of state have a responsibility “that competition between our countries does not degenerate into a conflict, whether intentional or unintentional.”

The sentence shows how aware Biden is that relations with China are unstable enough that he could almost accidentally get into a downward spiral. Xi Jinping spoke of mutual respect. He also stressed according to the official Xinhua news agencyIt is normal for both sides to have differences: “The key is to handle them constructively so that they do not worsen or worsen.” The differences have been the same for years: human rights, Taiwan, the trade war.

China and USA: cooperation despite many differences

According to the transcript, Biden emphasized that both must “be clear and honest when we disagree and work together where our interests intersect” – especially on important global issues such as climate change. “Since their interests are deeply intertwined, China and the US win through cooperation and lose through confrontation,” the state newspaper quoted as saying Global Times Xi Jinping*.

Since the presidency of Donald Trump, Beijing has accused the US of deliberately trying to contain China, for example through the trade dispute that Trump broke from the fence *. Chinese foreign politicians have been warning the United States of a “new Cold War” for months. The United States, in turn, see some Chinese companies as a threat to the US economy and accuse Xi of an increasingly authoritarian course at home.

Climate change *, like global disarmament and global health policy, is an area in which China * and the USA have relatively similar interests despite all geopolitical tensions. At the end of the climate conference in Glasgow they reached an agreement. both countries on a common approach to climate protection * after the two climate officers John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua had exchanged around 40 times. Such agreements sometimes do more than the usually watered-down final declarations of multilateral conferences such as COP26. In this case, time will tell.

Biden meets Xi: worried about slipping into real conflict

The video summit, which took place on the initiative of Joe Biden, shows his government’s concern about the bilateral relationship sliding into real conflict. Washington itself is pushing system competition and is also trying to involve the Europeans in an alliance of democratic states against authoritarian rivals such as China or Russia. But Biden does not want a military conflict with China, even if the US is involved with its navy in the Indo-Pacific *, China’s backyard. There is a fine line between competition and conflict. Biden expressed the minimum goal in typical American succinctness: “Just simple, straightforward competition” – simple, direct competition. As if it were about sports.

China and USA: Both convinced of the superiority of their own system

For the USA * it is still new to look at China on an equal footing. Both states “must treat each other as equals,” stressed Xi Jinping after the US transcript. Ten years ago no Chinese head of state would have made such a statement. It wasn’t long ago that the People’s Republic was a developing country that supplied the world with simple light industrial goods and stayed out of global geopolitics. Today China is preparing to overtake the USA as the world’s largest economy. China dominates entire economic and raw material sectors, wants to help determine international technological standards and emits more greenhouse gases than the USA.

Beijing can no longer simply be pilloried for human rights abuses or government subsidies to certain industrial sectors. The West needs China’s cooperation on many global issues and must therefore precisely measure criticism in order to keep the door open – even if criticism of China’s human rights policy in Xinjiang or Hong Kong is not missing at any summit, not even at this one.

USA and China: How can you restore lost trust?

“It has proven difficult to resume the commitment that came to a standstill at the end of the Trump administration,” wrote Daniel Russel, US Deputy Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific under Biden’s predecessor Barack Obama, in the specialist magazine on Sunday Foreign Affairs. “Each side is convinced of the superiority of its own system and focuses on the weaknesses of the other,” said Russel, today Vice President of the Asia Society Policy Institute for international security and diplomacy.

The online summit could help restore lost political confidence, quoted the Global Times Wu Xinbo, Dean of the Institute for International Studies, Shanghai Fudan University.

China and USA: keep channels open

It is unclear whether this will succeed. But no matter how heated it may have been behind closed doors: The start was at least friendlier than the rough exchange of blows in front of reporters at the frosty foreign ministers’ meeting in Anchorage * in the spring. The unusual length of the conversation also suggests that both had something to say to each other. “I think it is very important that we have always communicated with each other, very honestly and openly,” said Biden to Xi. He said the same to other heads of government. “We never part and wonder what the other man is thinking.” (ck) * is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.

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