What's next for the US, China after the Biden-Xi summit? - opinion

The idea of a Cold War between the US and China is impossible, at least in the form that took place between Washington and Moscow during the Soviet era, for several reasons.

 US PRESIDENT Joe Biden shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last month. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Joe Biden shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last month.
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

The recent summit between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping is one of the major events on the world stage in recent times.

The summit is an important event given the escalation of tensions between the two countries in recent months, especially after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan; its results represent an important qualitative addition to the global event. The three-hour meeting between Biden and Xi is a landmark event.

The two presidents know each other well, since Biden’s time as vice president. At the meeting, they sought common ground on key contentious issues such as the technology conflict, Taiwan, North Korea and the Ukraine crisis.

The main outcome of the meeting was President Biden’s remarkable statement that there would not be a “new Cold War” with China, an important indication of the conciliatory atmosphere after the meeting. This was reinforced by the fact that Biden also said that he did not believe that China would invade Taiwan.

The face-to-face meeting between the two presidents for the first time since Biden took office muted expectations that relations between the world’s two most powerful powers were currently headed for further deterioration and collision. Biden administration officials emphasized this point, albeit implicitly.

  US President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington, US November 15, 2021. (credit: REUTERS) US President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington, US November 15, 2021. (credit: REUTERS)

US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan, prior to his current appointment, made this assessment in a joint article published in Foreign Affairs magazine with Kurt Campbell, Biden’s senior adviser on Asian affairs. In it, they explained that communication with China has come to an end, fueling the idea of a new Cold War.

A Cold War between the US and China is impossible

MY PERSONAL opinion has been that the idea of a Cold War between the US and China is impossible, at least in the form that took place between Washington and Moscow during the Soviet era, for several reasons. Chief among them is that there are no two camps in the traditional sense.

Regardless of the differences in political and ideological models, there are enormous overlaps and entanglements in the global economy. The US economy can be said to grow independently of China’s economy or vice versa, as was the case during the Cold War with the former Soviet Union.

What can be said for certain is that there is a conflict of paradigms, which includes cultural and ideological conflict. Thus, there is a growing Chinese competition and challenge to the American model and hegemony over the world order.

But it is worth pointing out the main qualitative difference – that the arenas of conflict here are not military in the full sense, but technical, economic and scientific, and in which interests overlap in a very complex way, in addition to the fact that we are no longer talking about just two models, the American and Chinese. We also have the remarkable Indian rise.

It’s a model that is politically close to the American model. But it has cultural and civilizational specificities, political and strategic positions that make it an important party in any future competition.

OF COURSE, Biden’s statement denying the start of a new Cold War is a realistic description; the meeting with the Chinese leader did not lead to a convergence of positions. But there is a growing conviction that a clash at this point is not in the interests of either side.

The US is not prepared for a military or economic clash with China. Neither is Beijing – not so much because of the weakness of both sides, but because of the implications of overlapping interests and the complexity of the situation in a way that makes it difficult to dismantle or separate one side with its interests from the other.

We are talking about two economies that are already in debt and have different strengths and weaknesses. But there is no longer a hegemonic superpower that independently wields all the elements of influence, as was the case, for example, with the US at the beginning of the new millennium.

The issue of Taiwan is the most sensitive dossier and the one most capable of igniting a Sino-American conflict. High-level bilateral talks seem to focus too much on it.

“I made it clear that our policy in Taiwan has not changed at all. It’s the same exact position we’ve had. I made it clear that we want to see cross-strait issues peacefully resolved. And so it never has to come to that [war)]. I’m convinced he understood exactly what I was saying. I understood what he was saying,” Biden said.

“I made it clear that our policy in Taiwan has not changed at all. It’s the same exact position we’ve had. I made it clear that we want to see cross-strait issues peacefully resolved. And so it never has to come to that [war)]. I’m convinced he understood exactly what I was saying. I understood what he was saying.”

Joe Biden

He added that they agreed to create a mechanism through which dialogues would be held at key levels of government to resolve issues. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would also visit China soon. He emphasized that he had made it clear to Xi that “our One China policy has not changed. It’s the same exact position we’ve had.”

Thus, the meeting eliminated the idea of a change in the US strategic position on Taiwan and provided Beijing with what it was comfortable. Both sides returned to recognizing the “One China” policy, the cornerstone of their relationship, after a period of contradictions and ambiguity.

CERTAINLY, THE US’S tendency to cool the atmosphere in relations with China has not been one-sided. The Chinese president has taken the same stance. At the opening of the G20 summit in Indonesia ahead of his meeting with Biden, Xi said that it was necessary to determine the right course for Sino-US relations, given that the world had reached a crossroads.

Later in a Chinese statement, Xi said that Sino-US relations should not be a zero-sum game, and that there is room to adjust to the common development and prosperity of China and the US. 

However, the reality of Sino-US relations cannot be said to have become rosy. Volatility is a key feature of this relationship. Ultimately, the fierceness of the trade and economic rivalry will continue, and US plans to slow China’s growth will not stop, nor will Beijing’s pushback from those plans. 

The US national security strategy sees no strategic threat other than China. Washington is focused on trying to thwart the rise of China as a strategic adversary – but with commercial tools and in an atmosphere different from the old Cold War classics.

The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.