Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

The diplomatic meeting should make it possible to slightly improve Sino-American relations, but we should not expect great progress, experts say .

Tête-à-tête Joe Biden-Xi Jinping  : tactical break in tensions between superpowers?

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Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit his American counterpart Joe Biden next Wednesday in San Francisco. (Archive photo)

  • Philippe Leblanc (View profile)Philippe Leblanc

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Hopes are higher this time around. White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre recently said that the face-to-face meeting between American and Chinese presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping next Wednesday in San Francisco will be particularly important. /p>

On this date last year – November 14, 2022, to be precise – observers agreed that they were not expecting anything major from the first Xi-Biden meeting at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia . Afterwards, however, the meeting was seen as an important step forward which made it possible to reopen the channel of communication and calm commercial competition between the two superpowers. And this, even if the dispute over Taiwan had been publicly addressed.

But the episode of the Chinese spy balloon shot down over the United States last February undid the progress made and the level of tension rose.

On the other hand, since last summer, the White House has signaled its intention to attempt a new rapprochement. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing, a visit followed by multiple other visits by US government officials.

After to be pulled, publicly at least, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, would now also like a break in tensions with the United States.

We can clearly see that Xi Jinping asked to have a private exchange at Sunnylands (a historic estate in the United States where he was photographed walking with Barack Obama in 2013), to walk with President Biden in a green space to display a certain proximity, a desire to co-manage strategic competition to prevent it from getting out of hand, believes Mathieu Duchâtel, director of international studies at the Montaigne Institute.

This is the first time that we have seen such an obvious trend in Xi Jinping's foreign policy, that is to say the impression of an attempt at a tactical pause.

A quote from Mathieu Duchâtel, director of international studies, Institut Montaigne

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Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to want tensions between the two countries to calm down.

So why this openness from the Chinese strongman at this time?

The unprecedented setbacks of the Chinese economy have a lot to do with it, according to many experts.

I believe that both parties now want friendlier relations, especially with China, says Shih Ping-Fan, professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at National Taiwan University.

The Chinese economy is currently facing difficulties. China hopes that by improving relations with the United States, it can attract more American investment.

A quote from Shih Ping-Fan, professor, National Taiwan University

Of course, many people in the United States also want to change their relationship with China due to China's new counterintelligence law.

The China-United States commercial competition would also aggravate the problems of the Chinese economy.

We can think that there is a link with the slowing down of the Chinese economy and with the fact that the American policy of encouraging diversification, which is very largely amplified in its results by China's own policies, adds Mathieu Duchâtel.< /p>

We now have investment movements which are not at all to China's advantage, notes Mr. Duchâtel. And for me, who has been looking at China since 1997, this is really the first time that we have seen investment flows that are negative. This last half-year, we have seen this movement on the part of certain large companies to diversify their investments which is really starting to take shape.

The future of Taiwan remains one of the main sources of tension between China and the United States.

The Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the sovereign democratic island, but it considers it its territory. Meanwhile, despite an official position of strategic ambiguity, the United States is selling weapons to Taiwan to defend against a possible invasion.

Taiwan's presidential elections will take place next January. Beijing fears the election of the current vice-president, William Lai, from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who has expressed pro-independence positions.

This could be a good time for Xi Jinping to raise the issue with Washington, especially since 2024 will also be an election year in the United States, which risks increasing tensions between the two countries, according to David Rank, former charge d'affaires at the US Embassy in Beijing during the Obama administration and head of the China practice at business consultancy The Cohen Group.

We can perhaps hypothesize that China is also seeking to co-manage Taiwan with the Americans, to use American power to seek to prevent a PDP candidate from leading a pro-independence agenda, believes Mathieu Duchâtel.

We must accept the fact that China may have, vis-à-vis a PDP presidency, anxiety over its pro- independence which seems absolutely impossible to us because we can clearly see the set of constraints, he thinks. But the Chinese perception of this agenda is undoubtedly real.

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Showing a lot of openness towards Beijing could harm US President Joe Biden's re-election chances. (File photo)

So, what to expect from this meeting between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden?

Max Baucus, former US ambassador to Beijing, says that none of the parties do not want to see the relationship deteriorate.

However, many considerations temper hopes.

In the United States, concerns and opposition to China cut across party lines. Therefore, if Biden goes too soft on China, it could harm his re-election prospects.

A quote from Shih Ping-Fan, Professor, National Taiwan University

Several analysts therefore predict that the tête-à-tête will end with optimistic statements and a slightly less tense climate, but with few concrete results or major breakthroughs on the major points of tension.

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