Neither cold nor hot war after Biden-Xi meeting

How successful was the Biden-Xi meeting in San Francisco? Some signs were telling.

US President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit
US President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit

Neither cold nor hot war after Biden-Xi meeting

The day following the Biden-Xi meeting, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dived as Asia’s worst-performing market. Over 4,200 stocks were in the red on the Chinese mainland stock exchanges.

The two leaders have agreed to a handful of bilateral dialogue mechanisms encompassing finance, commerce, export control, tariffs, climate change, and defense. Such agreements are merely agreements to keep talking. The only substantial agreement that was achieved was the joint crackdown on the fentanyl supply chain from China. The compromise was only possible because the White House agreed to remove China’s Public Security Research Institute - a research arm of the Chinese security complex - from the US’s blacklist. Even this little progress could be fleeting, assured by no enforcement mechanisms.

The much-anticipated Biden-Xi effort to restrict the use of AI in nuclear arsenal and autonomous weapons was not achieved. Instead, the two sides agreed to keep the dialogue open on AI governance.

President Xi did not receive the White House’s official invitation for a state visit, a status China has surely desired. While President Xi received a warm reception from President Biden, Indonesian President Joko Widodo was honored at the White House.

Read more: There are no total wins in Biden-Xi summit

As little as the US and Chinese leaders agreed on the bilateral agenda, even less consensus was brought to the broader global conflicts, including wars in Gaza and Ukraine. There seems to be little enthusiasm to jointly put an end to the global conflicts, given the divergent beliefs and global interests held by the two states.

When President Biden referred to President Xi as a “dictator” at the press conference following the sideline meeting, all the goodwill shown in the garden walk, the long handshake, and the amicable photo-ops quickly eclipsed.

Indo-Pacific economic attempt

Both Presidents Xi and Biden seem to have been more focused on making other breakthroughs on the sidelines of the APEC Summit. President Xi spoke in front of hundreds of US senior business executives – a lineup with the league of Elon Musk and Tim Cook – at a business gala hosted by China-friendly US associations. President Xi was in a cheerful mood.

He told the US executives China is a cooperation partner, not a competitive rival, for which he received a standing ovation. Between selfies and handshakes, the Chinese leader tried to woo American businesses back to China, in order to stabilize the domestic economic turmoil and to counter the DC political headwinds.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd L) and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai attend the APEC Ministerial Meeting

President Biden gathered 13 state representatives from the US’s newly conceived Indo-Pacific Economic Framework on the sideline of the APEC Summit. Over a meeting that lasted for 30 minutes, the new bloc agreed on three key elements of the IPEF - combating corruption, investing in sustainability, and building supply chain resilience, and only failed to agree on a regional free trade agreement.

Read more: Food for thought: Why Russia-China grain pact is a big deal

When President Xi told President Biden that there was no timeline for Beijing to take over Taiwan militarily, neither in 2027 nor in 2035, and “no one has discussed this with me,” he appeared annoyed at Washington DC’s fashioning an industry of predicting the timing of a war over Taiwan.

The US will not stop selling weapons to Taiwan. President Biden has not issued a formal statement to oppose Taiwan independence ahead of Taiwan's January election.

President Xi may very well be telling the truth. There is no formal discussion of a timeline for the Taiwan unification. He has publicly stated that Taiwan's unification cannot be left to the next generation (of Chinese leadership). However, given the Chinese political reality, the next generation of Chinese leadership could be years or even decades away.

When he said, "No one has discussed this with me," it must also be true. President Xi will be the only one who makes a decision of such national and global consequence. The proposal will be coming from no one but Mr. Xi himself.

The US will not stop selling weapons to Taiwan. President Biden has not issued a formal statement to oppose Taiwan independence ahead of Taiwan's January election.

While the APEC summit took place, China and Pakistan launched the most extensive military exercises on record. US Secretaries of State and Defense visited India and bolstered the Indo-Pacific security and defense cooperation. The Pacific arms race will only continue to escalate.

In the opening speech of President Xi at the bilateral meeting, he rebuked the US's defining thesis of the current US-China relations. He said, "Competition should not underpin the current era."

Lifting the fundamental idea of great power relations above competition is soothing and necessary. The Hobbesian state of nature should no longer define a modern global order.

The US and China are neither in a Cold nor Hot War. They are in the twilight, in search of a new global order on the failings of the current one.

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