US manages expectations of breakthrough before Biden and Xi meet | ET REALITY


Of all the issues dividing the United States and China (spy balloons, Beijing’s rapid nuclear development and Washington’s crackdown on advanced computer chips), the White House has been involved in one more topic of debate: what the China’s leader when he looks out his window during his visit to California this week.

When President Biden meets with President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, China’s diplomats want to know what Xi will look at and make sure the scenario doesn’t include protesters. Almost every minute they spend together, from the number of steps it will take for Xi to reach a chair when he enters a room to the specific moment of their handshake, will be part of a highly choreographed diplomatic dance, designed to give them the space to try to calm a year of bubbling tensions.

The ceremonial details have already been discussed. But compared to the US-China summits of a decade or more ago, expectations of a substantial agreement are minimal at best.

Biden’s advisers have hinted that only one concrete deal is expected to emerge from the meeting, which is scheduled to be held near the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, called APEC, in San Francisco. They said the leaders could announce the resumption of military-to-military communications, which were suspended by the Chinese after Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in the summer of 2022.

And both sides have been discussing whether they could find a way to reach a future compromise to keep AI software out of their nuclear command and control systems. While it might seem like a fairly straightforward discussion, China has so far never entered into a meaningful negotiation over its rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal, so even the first rift on the issue could prove significant.

However, the fact that the bar is set so low is telling. U.S. officials say there is no plan for the two leaders to issue a joint statement of any kind. Instead, each government will provide its own version of the discussions.

There was a time when summits with Chinese leaders resulted in agreements on containing North Korea and preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, on climate goals and economic coordination to avoid financial crises, and joint efforts in the fight against terrorism. Those days are over. While Biden plans to address China’s continued shipment of technology to Russia to fuel the war in Ukraine and its purchases of sanctioned Russian and Iranian oil, there is little to no prospect of a change in behavior, officials acknowledge.

The summit is expected to be the first time Biden and Xi have spoken in a year, and Xi’s first visit to U.S. soil since 2017. In their carefully crafted description of their expectations, Biden’s advisers have refrained from repeating his wish. past of putting “guardrails” in the relationship (a phrase that the Chinese reject as a new American style of containment) or of placing a “floor” under a relationship that has spiraled downward.

In briefings with journalists, they have used phrases such as being “clear” and maintaining “open lines of communication” to describe a relationship they believe is best managed not with “engagement” (the approach to China advocated for decades) but with diplomacy. the old way. .

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters Monday that the relationship now is about “managing competition responsibly so it doesn’t escalate into conflict.” The way to achieve this is through intense diplomacy,” Sullivan said. “This way we clarify misconceptions and avoid surprises.”

Chinese officials say Xi will seek assurances from Biden that the United States “is not seeking a new Cold War,” the country’s ambassador to the United States, Xie Feng, said last week. But over the past year, Xi has made clear that he views the United States as deeply engaged in Cold War-like behavior. “Western countries led by the United States have implemented comprehensive containment, encirclement and repression against China,” he said in March.

China’s main concern has been the Biden administration’s efforts to create a patchwork of old allies and new partners in the Indo-Pacific (with new agreements from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea) to counter China’s ambitions.

“We know this because Chinese leaders complain frequently, and loudly, about what they see as an American encirclement campaign,” said Jude Blanchette, a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Xi’s visit to APEC, a group of 21 countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean, Blanchette said, is an “effort to slow or modify the pace and severity of future US actions, especially in the technology space, which he considers so expensive.”

Both men will feel each other’s feelings about a possible conflict over Taiwan. Six months ago, U.S. officials regularly held practical exercises on how they might respond to an attack or strangulation pressure from the island.

There is still concern, but US officials are now signaling that they believe China’s economic slowdown has bought some time, with Xi in a poor position to risk broad economic sanctions. And in recent conversations with U.S. officials, Chinese diplomats have become more concerned about the upcoming elections in Taiwan, fearful that if the elections spur a move toward independence, China could be forced to act.

Analysts say Chinese officials, for their part, have watched American political discord closely and from afar. Republicans have attacked Biden for trying to stabilize the relationship with China, although until the Covid pandemic that was exactly what President Donald J. Trump said he was trying to do as he pursued trade deals.

A letter sent to the White House on Wednesday by a House select committee on China called on Biden to challenge Xi on several points of tension, including the wrongful detention of Americans, existing regulations on fentanyl production and recent near-collisions between Chinese and Americans. ships and war planes.

Administration officials have largely avoided detailing how Biden plans to raise those issues with Xi, but said the president would address other concerns, including non-interference in elections in Taiwan.

The administration has also said very little about how Biden plans to raise the issue of China’s rapid nuclear development. The Pentagon recently reported that China’s arsenal had reached 500 strategic weapons, and it expects that number to double by 2030. But the current number of Chinese weapons deployed is still a third the size of the US and Russian arsenals, and Chinese officials They have told their American counterparts that they will not discuss arms control until they are on par with the other two nuclear superpowers. According to experts, the debate over artificial intelligence may be the best way into a broader nuclear debate.

Biden is also expected to address the war in Gaza with Xi, Sullivan said. Beijing has a warm trade and diplomatic relationship with Iran, a country that helps support Hamas and other militant groups in the Middle East. Biden is expected to emphasize to Xi that an expanded war in the Middle East is “not in the interest of the People’s Republic of China,” using an acronym for the Chinese government, and that the United States will respond if Iranian proxies continue attacking forces. Americans.

The meeting will take place a year after Biden and Xi met and tried to strike a warmer tone during the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, another rigidly planned affair.

(Mr. Xi’s advisers have good reason to worry about the details of a meeting with an American president: On a visit to the White House in 2006, President Hu Jintao’s speech at a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn was interrupted by a protester, and it took several minutes for security officials to reach her and escort her out. At the same event, China’s anthem was announced as the anthem of the “Republic of China,” the formal name of Taiwan. The party (Mr. Hu considered leaving Washington.)

Biden’s advisers will come to Wednesday’s meeting betting that the Chinese have been caught off guard by efforts to develop allies across the Indo-Pacific and build stronger diplomatic agreements with other leaders. That includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, whose country has been a target of Chinese aggression on its borders and who was the guest of honor during a state visit to the White House in June.

In September, Biden met Modi again in India and then traveled to Vietnam to announce a new strategic partnership. On Monday, Biden hosted Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, at the White House, where both leaders announced that Indonesia is raising its relationship with the United States to its highest level.

Kurt Campbell, presidential coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs and candidate for deputy secretary of State, said in an interview with the atlantic council that the most important thing the United States could do during the summit would be to “make clear and demonstrate to the Chinese that we still have staying power, that we are still the most powerful country, and that we are still committed to our broader goal.” purpose in the Indo-Pacific.”

Aside from the meeting with Biden, Xi is expected to spend much of his time in California showing American industry leaders that their country is open for business. After he and Biden meet, Xi is expected to speak with top executives of American companies at a $2,000-a-plate dinner, part of a “CEO Summit” on the sidelines of the main event.

According to officials, Biden is expected to attend another event.

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