The meeting by videoconference between the two most powerful men in the world began this Tuesday in Beijing, Monday still in Washington, with an exchange of conciliatory words and a declaration of good intentions. In front of the fireplace in the Roosevelt room at the Joe Biden White House, in a cavernous room of the Great Hall of the Xi Jinping People, and both flanked by the flags of the two countries, they greeted each other in an apparently relaxed way to ask the Chinese president ” communication and cooperation “in bilateral and US relations, some” common sense protective barriers “that allow” simple and direct “competition between their two nations and avoid” a conflict, intentional or not. “
Both address in their meeting lasting several hours – the first half concluded after two hours of conversation, according to Chinese official media – issues such as Taiwan, the self-governed island that China considers part of its territory and which has become the thorniest issue in the world. relationship between the two great powers. Climate change, following the bilateral agreement signed last week in Glasgow. Regional security in Asia Pacific, after the establishment of the Aukus alliance between the US, Australia and the United Kingdom. Human rights. And other areas of dispute, from technology to commerce.
In the days leading up to the meeting, US officials had already made it clear that no major concrete agreements are expected from this meeting, which neither side wants to call a “summit.” Rather, it is about lowering tensions between the two giants and avoiding the possibility of a military conflict.
The relationship between the two countries is at its worst since both reestablished formal diplomacy in 1979. When two elephants fight, the grass underneath is essentially suffering. And a fight between two colossi like the United States and China, the world’s two largest economic powers, has repercussions across the globe. Biden, who was the first to speak, called on Xi to ensure that the competition between the two countries does not lead to “an open conflict” and proposed to establish “common sense barriers.” The problem lies in what each government understands by common sense.
The US president has repeatedly stressed that human rights are at the center of his foreign agenda, warns that he will defend the autonomy of Taiwan and has condemned the abuses of Beijing towards the abuses of the Uighurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region. . But Xi arrives at the appointment imbued with power, recently consecrated by his Communist Party as a historical figure, something that paves the way for a third term and, de facto, sine die control of the country. None of the country’s authoritarian drift seems to have diminished its future.
“We must be clear and sincere where we disagree and work together on those where our interests coincide, especially on global and vital issues such as climate change,” Biden said at the beginning of the meeting. And that seems the only terrain in which the two powers are capable of agreement, as demonstrated last week at the Glasgow conference, a kind of truce amid an escalation of tension on multiple fronts: economic, with a tariff war. valid; military, in line with, among others, the reinforcement of nuclear weapons by Beijing; technological, by the accusations of robbery and espionage.
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In his opening greeting, Xi referred to Biden as an “old friend.” They are undoubtedly old acquaintances, who have been thoroughly discussed in the past, when the American was vice president of the Obama Administration. But that they are not friends is something that the North American has wanted to make clear within his country, where the Republican opposition would throw itself at his neck if he shows more flexibility than the Republican Donald Trump towards the Asian giant. Both conservatives and progressives agree in the United States on the need for a strong hand against the regime in the field of unfair economic competition or human rights abuses. Biden has called Xi a “bully”, has said he does not have “a single democratic bone” in his body.
This Monday, however, was the time for realpolitik, for damage containment. In his speech at the beginning of the meeting, Xi called on Biden to “improve communication” and “coexist peacefully”, to work together to “advance the cause of world peace and development.” “A solid and stable relationship between China and the United States is necessary to advance the respective development of the two countries and to safeguard a peaceful and stable international environment,” added the Chinese president, who is accompanied at the meeting by his most trusted advisers. Among them, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice Premier Liu He, Xi’s man of reference for economic issues.
The expectations of the meeting were low. Rather than building a path of collaboration, leaders seek ways not to aggravate hostilities. Beijing intends to renew its armed forces in 2035 and turn them into an army that can rival, and even defeat, the United States in 2049. Washington is deeply concerned about the increase in the Chinese nuclear arsenal, as well as the growing Chinese military presence in Taiwan. And to Beijing, what it perceives as the determination of its rival to prevent its rise.
The video conference is the third direct conversation between the two leaders since Biden’s arrival at the White House in January. In the first, in February, the American criticized the crackdown on Hong Kong and the abuses of Uighurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.