It is their responsibility to “ensure that competition between our countries does not degenerate into a conflict, whether intentional or unintentional,” said Biden on Monday evening (US local time) at the beginning of the eagerly anticipated conversation with Xi.
At the same time, Biden emphasized “that all countries must adhere to the same rules of the game”. The US would always stand up for its interests and values as well as those of its allies and partners. The US President pronounced “guidelines of common sense”. Both sides would have to honestly say “where we disagree and work together where our interests overlap, especially on important global issues such as climate change”. For both countries it is a matter of assuming responsible leadership roles in the world.
At the end of the roughly three and a half hour conversation, there were positive tones from Beijing. The meeting was “far-reaching, in-depth, outspoken, constructive, substantial and productive,” commented Foreign Office spokeswoman Hua Chunying in a first brief reaction on Twitter. “It helps to expand mutual understanding.”
It was the first personal, if only virtual, encounter between the two presidents since Biden took office in January. Before that, both of them had only phoned twice. At the beginning of Tuesday morning, Beijing local time, Xi said China and the US should respect each other, peacefully coexist and cooperate, as quoted by the state media. Both countries should also live up to their international responsibilities.
In addition, Xi expressed willingness to “form a consensus with Biden and take active steps to move relations between China and the United States in a positive direction,” as quoted by the official Xinhua news agency. Good relationships are important in order to promote development in both countries, to ensure a peaceful and stable international environment and to find effective answers to global challenges such as climate change or the corona pandemic. As the largest economies and permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US and China should live up to their international responsibilities, Xi said.
Xi called Biden “an old friend” according to state television. The White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said shortly before the video conference that Biden did not consider Xi an “old friend”. The Democrat still knows Xi from his time as US Vice President under Barack Obama. Last month, Biden told CNN that he had spent more time with Xi in his political career than any other head of state or government.
The conversation took place against the background of growing tensions between the two largest economies. The relationship between the two great powers is more strained than ever since diplomatic relations were established in 1979. Both see themselves as competitors. A selection of points of contention:
– Taiwan: Biden recently spoke of a US “obligation” to defend the island democratic republic in the event of a Chinese attack. Beijing regards Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic and threatens to be conquered for “reunification”. The US also rejects China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
– human rights: The US is concerned about the suppression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong and criticizes the persecution of the Uyghur ethnic minority in Xinjiang. Biden emphasized in a speech to the US Congress in April with a view to China: “No responsible American president can remain silent when fundamental human rights are violated.”
– Trade conflict: Since the time of Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, the two leading economic powers have been fighting a trade war with mutual punitive tariffs. Biden’s government accuses China of “unfair economic behavior” through state subsidies, for example.
– Coronavirus: Trump was accused of racism because he called the virus “Kung Flu” in reference to its origins in China – “flu” means flu in English. Biden is more diplomatic, but still caused trouble with Beijing: He commissioned the US secret services to check whether the virus might originate from a Chinese laboratory. The investigation did not give a definitive result.
– Climate: Biden had criticized Xi’s absence from the climate summit in Glasgow a few days ago as a “big mistake”. Surprisingly, the USA and China, the world’s largest producers of fossil CO2 emissions, then announced that they would expand their cooperation in the fight against climate change. “The US and China have no shortage of differences,” said US climate protection commissioner John Kerry. “But with the climate, that’s the only way to cope with this task.”