Washington: US President Joe Biden told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Wednesday that they should keep their communications lines open and get to understand each other so as “to ensure that competition (between their countries) does not veer into conflict” while the Chinese President reiterated his opposition to describing the relationship as competition saying it “is not the prevailing trend of current times”.
The Chinese leader went on to warn that conflict and confrontation between the two countries will have “unbearable consequences” for both sides.
Biden hosted Xi at a mansion outside San Francisco where they are for the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. This was their first meeting in more than a year; they last met in Bali, Indonesia in September 2022 on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Ties between the two countries have been on a rollercoaster ride since, hitting a new low in June when a Chinese spy balloon entered US airspace and wafted across the American mainland till it was shot down by the US Air Force over the Atlantic Ocean.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken had postponed his visit to Beijing in protest and communications between the two sides plummeted even further. Beijing had snapped the military-to-military communication in August 2022 in anger over then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
The Biden administration had been pressing the Chinese to reopen communications arguing, as the President reiterated to his Chinese counterpart, that the two sides need to talk to prevent a conflict of miscommunication or the failure to understand each other. Several top-level visits were exchanged between the two sides, leading up to the leaders’ summit in San Francisco.
“I value our conversation because I think it’s paramount that we understand each other clearly, leader to leader with no misconceptions or miscommunication,” Biden said to Xi as they sat across a table with their delegations ahead of the talks. “We have to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict. And we also have to manage responsibly the competition.”
The Biden administration had framed the relationship with China as competition between two of the world’s largest economies and has announced major investments into equipping the United States for it, which includes preventing the export of critical components in the high-tech sector to China. The administration further defines its policy towards China as managing this competition.
The first step towards that goal is keeping the lines of communication open.
Biden has been a long-time believer in personal meetings and interfaces with world leaders and his appeal to Xi on Wednesday to develop a “leader-to-leader” understanding was a piece of that framework.
Xi pushed back in his opening remarks. “The China-US relationship has never been smooth sailing over the past 50 years or more, and it always faces problems of one kind or another,” he said, speaking through a translator.
“Yet it has kept moving forward amid twists and turns. For two large countries like China and the United States. turning their back on each other is not an option. It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other, and conflict and confrontation have unbearable consequences for both sides.”
He added: “‘I am still of the view that major country competition is not to 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.”
US officials have kept expectations from the visit low, highlighting essentially the need for the two countries to agree to keep talking and keep open the lines of communications — especially the military-to-military lines. They have also expressed the hope to discuss trade in Fentanyl. Chinese versions of these painkillers are flooding the US market, leading to high levels of dependence and addiction.
The Chinese side could be looking for some respite or concessions on the economy. The Chinese economy is struggling with record youth unemployment, a deepening crisis in the real estate sector and increasing export controls on high-tech components and growing reluctance on the part of international investors to go to China.