Xi-Biden Summit in San Francisco Helps Lower Tensions Between Two Major Powers

The four-hour meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, that took place Nov. 15 on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, reestablished lines of communication at various levels between the two countries, which had been frayed and even broken during the period of growing tensions of the last few years.

The summit had been preceded by a series of high-level meetings between the government ministers of both countries, related to commerce, trade, finance, foreign policy and climate policies. There had also been a number of high-level visits with President Xi by leading figures from U.S. industry, interested in investing more in the Chinese market, as well as by California governor Gavin Newsom.

The major takeaways of the summit were an agreement between the two Presidents to cooperate on counternarcotics efforts, with China working to restrict the export of precursor drugs which go into the production of fentanyl. They also agreed to reestablish military-to-military relations, which had been broken since the provocative visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. Both of these measures were major demands raised by the U.S.

The two parties also agreed to increase people-to-people exchanges, including exchange of students, increased tourist travel, and increased exchanges of groups and institutions visiting each of the nations for study or for work purposes. In order to accomplish this, the visa process by both countries would be greatly facilitated.

In his opening remarks, Xi noted the fundamental difference in the way the two countries view each other, a difference that will eventually have to be overcome in order to establish relations of real friendship between the two countries. While the U.S. still views China as its main “rival” or “competitor”, he said, China would like to move it to the level of “friendly” relations. “I am still of the view that major-country competition is not the prevailing trend of current times and cannot solve the problems facing China and the United States or the world at large…. Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed, and one country’s success is an opportunity for the other.”

It is still too early to know how far the U.S. will go in meeting some of the major concerns raised by the Chinese side, in particular with regard to lifting some restrictions on trade and on the export of semiconductors, vital for much of China’s high technology production. The U.S. President did reassure his Chinese counterpart that Washington remains committed to the One-China policy and does not support Taiwan independence. Here too, the future flow of weapons from the United States to Taiwan could indicate how strong that commitment really is.

The meeting, however, does represent something of a “thaw” in US-China relations. The warm welcome President Xi received in San Francisco by the Asian-American population also helped to counter the Western media narrative of the Chinese President as some evil “autocrat”. He also held a dinner with the CEOs of top U.S. companies, who gave him several standing ovations. Xi himself insisted on many occasions on the importance he gives to establishing stronger people-to-people relations.

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