Sunday, December 5, 2021

US-China attempt to stabilize relations amid US commitment for a free and open Indo-Pacific

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden in a much-awaited virtual summit on Tuesday attempted to ease the tensions in the bilateral relations amid straight talk and strong words on some contentious issues including Taiwan, Indo-Pacific and trade issues. According to a white house press statement, President Biden told his Chinese counterpart of the continued determination of the United States to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Biden reiterated the importance of freedom of navigation and safe overflight to the region’s prosperity, the readout said. In their first face to face virtual meeting that lasted for more than three hours, both the leaders tried to emphasize on their personal relationship and tried to find ways to work with each other and avoiding conflict and jointly responding to global challenges such as climate change and energy security.

They also traded strong warnings on the future of Taiwan, with President Xi saying that those backing Taiwan were “playing with fire”. The White House readout reiterated the longstanding US policy that does not recognize Taiwan’s independence but supports the defense of the island. President Joe Biden said the US remains committed to the “one China” policy but “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”. The meeting was held against the backdrop of deteriorating relations and mounting tensions between the US and China.

According to White House readout, Biden had raised concerns about human rights, including the situation in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, China’s “unfair” trade practices and its aggressive behaviour across the Indo-Pacific. Biden was “clear about the need to protect American workers and industries from the PRC’s unfair trade and economic practices”, the readout said. Biden also underscored the “importance of managing strategic risks”. He pointed to the need for “common-sense guardrails to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict and to keep lines of communication open”. Mr Xi said the two countries needed to improve “communication” and face challenges “together”. The two leaders also discussed climate change issues, health security and global energy security. Biden and Xi also exchanged views on key regional challenges, including Korean peninsula, Afghanistan and Iranian nuclear issue.

This meeting was also held at a time when the US and China had just concluded an agreement at the COP26, met at the G20 and the APEC summit. Dr. Huiyao Wang, who is a counsellor at China’s state council and head of a prominent Chinese think tank Centre for China and Globalization said, “I don’t expect this one summit could bring us back to the good old days at once, but it can stop the downward spiral in the relations.” He added that the high-level diplomats of both sides were instructed to meet again to discuss trade, climate change, global governance and many other issues, including Afghanistan and other geopolitical issues.

He said, it sent a strong signal to the world that the US and Chinese leaders are looking for ways to stabilize their relations. This will certainly help reduce tensions between US and China but also stabilize China’s relation with neighboring countries, with India, with South Asia and even across Taiwan strait. China has been critical of US led QUAD group which includes India, Japan and Australia. China and India have been in a border standoff in eastern Ladakh for past twenty months. India has been demanding from China for complete disengagement at all the friction points, but the latest round of military talks failed in reaching a solution. Prof. Wang Dehua at Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies said that strategic impact of this summit on international relations are great, and it is a very good news in context of South Asia and Indo Pacific region.

On trade issues, Biden strongly put forward the travel related issues of US business community which China said it agreed to fast track, as per official readout but it also told US should adopt responsible macroeconomic policies. Xu Heqian, Director of International Desk at Caixin media said that the international community is anxious about the continued peaceful coexistence of the two global economies. He cautiously said we should be prepared and anticipate (for exchanges to become consensus). It depends on whether Biden and his team can exercise leadership over the entire U.S. political system so that the consensus reached at the head of state meeting can be translated into a push to put U.S.-China relations back on track, he added.

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