There certainly was a lot to chew on when the Presidents of the two most powerful nations on earth met face-to-face for the first time on Monday, just ahead of the G-20 Summit in Bali.
As what’s been called ‘A Week of Global Diplomacy in Asia’ continued following the end of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Cambodia, the Xi-Biden tete-a-tete was built-up as having implications for US-China ties — and their common problems, especially in trade and technology, security and ideology, Taiwan and the growing military escalation in the Korean Peninsula.
President Xi, aware that Washington’s active embracing of Taiwan under his watch is at clear variance with President Biden’s words, repeated that while Beijing prefers peaceful reunification (of Taiwan with the Mainland), it would not rule out use of force.
Last month’s Communist Party of China (CPC) Congress not having yielded any of the predicted expectations of the international mainstream media, attention returned to Washington’s semiconductor war on China, also launched last month when the imposed export controls to prohibit sale of cutting-edge microchips — and the equipment used to make them – to Beijing.
Taiwan is the main provider of those essential chips to the US, but with supplies choked by the COVID supply chain and further blocked by the tensions sparked by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to the island, Washington has been moving to build a local private sector-led production base, while attempting to torpedo China’s rise as the next biggest player on the global semiconductor market.
US-China ties have not been a bed of roses of late.
Following the Pelosi visit, China’s Foreign Ministry said dialogue between US and Chinese regional commanders and defence department heads would be cancelled, along with talks on military maritime safety, as well as suspension of cooperation on returning illegal immigrants, criminal investigations, transnational crime, illegal drugs and climate change.
China last month secured a stake in Germany’s port of Hamburg, but a US State Department official was reported in the international press as saying China’s share was reduced — from 35% to 25% — due to pressure from the American embassy in Berlin.
“The embassy was very clear that we strongly suggested that there’d be no controlling interest by China, and as you see when they adjusted the deal, there isn’t,” the official said.
American officials were also last week reported as heading to the Netherlands to talk about blocking the sale of Dutch microchip components to China.
Japan was also expected to fall in line with new US export controls targeting China’s chip-making industry, but Tokyo last week struck a blow to the push to get G7 countries to support a proposed cap on the global price of Russian gas after Japan announced it was sticking with its stake in Russia’s ‘Sakhalin-1’ oil and gas project – if only because its economy needs Russian fuel imports.
Canada also last week cited ‘national security’ to dump Chinese stakes in three lithium mines, with Industry Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, saying the country welcomes foreign direct investment, but not when it threatens “critical minerals supply chains.”
African countries also complained earlier this year of being threatened with sanctions by Washington, for trading with Russia and China.
The never-ending US trade war with China is still very-much-alive in the ASEAN region, where member-states have over $900 million in trade with neighbouring Beijing and President Biden on Friday announced a new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership project to pour $800 million into the region in 2023.
But sceptical ASEAN nations remember the much-vaunted ‘Pivot to East Asia’ announced by President Barack Obama (2009-2017) that wasn’t followed-up with the expected cash injections.
Traditional Western concern continues about China’s unrelenting advances on all global fronts (economic, political, geopolitical, diplomatic, military, technological and industrial fields) and its advances in space exploration, as well as wider cooperation with developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, but also in the Pacific, Latin America and Caribbean regions.
China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) continues to grow and widen and even while continuing to criticize it as a ‘Debt Trap’, the G-7 nations on June 26 announced, through President Biden, the collective mobilisation of $600 billion by 2027, admittedly to counter the BRI by “delivering game-changing” and “transparent” infrastructure projects to developing nations.
China also has a crucial role as an important cog in the wheel of progress towards Climate Change.
As the leading industrialized nation in the developing world and one that’s offered to do more than most of the world’s other major polluters responsible for worsening Climate Change, China continues to argue for developing nations, while the G-7 — and other rich nations within the G-20 — have to start accounting for their Climate Debt, which the agreed to start trying to quantify only in 2022.
China also outpaces its competitive critics in Green Development, while they show more interest in concepts like ‘Monetization of Climate Change’.
The Xi-Biden parley was colourfully described as “the first superpower summit of the second cold war”, but while the two leaders naturally discussed hot-button nuclear issues, neither side was realistically expected to recoil or reverse on the issues that have so-steadily deepened the divisions between Beijing and Washington since President Obama’s departure in 2016.
Against this background, it’ understandable that no earth-shattering or groundbreaking announcements came out of the Xi-Biden parley.
Presidents Xi and Biden each made clear they both wanted improvements in US-China relations and the trust-building mechanisms agreed will take time to be ironed-out, especially as the end results of the US midterm elections were not yet finally determined.
But the very fact that the US has agreed to establish follow-up mechanisms, starting with a visit to Beijing by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, is proof-positive that Washington desires engagement with China, come-what-may — because the two most powerful nations simply cannot do without each other, come-what-may!