HomeUS News updateWhite House hopes Biden's relationship with Xi can defuse U.S.-China tensions

White House hopes Biden’s relationship with Xi can defuse U.S.-China tensions

WASHINGTON – There may be a thin thread preventing tensions between the US and China from spiraling even further – President Joe Biden has held personal meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Biden administration officials and foreign policy analysts over the past dozen years. Relationships have been made.

Now that Chinese President Xi Jinping has consolidated power and effectively ended collective rule, according to US officials, he is the only person making decisions in Beijing that will drive the future of ties. Anonymity was granted in order to offer the candid assessment.

It is Xi who will decide whether China invades Taiwan or not; Xi who will determine whether China supplies Russia with lethal weapons in its war in Ukraine; Xi Jo will investigate how hard North Korea is trying to stop a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States and its allies.

“The answer is China. Now what’s the question?” Former CIA chief of staff Jeremy Bash spoke on the country’s role in global affairs as Xi begins another five-year term.

One question is whether the Biden administration can dissuade Xi from actions that lead the two countries down a path of conflict. A senior administration official said Biden often tells aides that when he speaks publicly about China, he should emphasize the need to keep the lines of communication open.

Yet because of Xi’s dominance of the Chinese system, the only means of averting catastrophe is the one that exists between the two presidents, administration officials and analysts.

This is not a sustainable solution. Biden’s term ends in less than two years, and if he chooses not to run for re-election or loses re-election, his successor may have to renew ties with Xi. Meanwhile, his relationship with Xi is under constant strain from the tough positions each country has taken at stake. Biden has kept in place Trump-era tariffs that target China and also imposed new export controls that bar the country from selling sophisticated computer chips and high-tech equipment.

“Biden says, ‘We want competition, but not conflict, with China,'” said Daniel Russell, former director of Asian affairs in the Obama White House. “That sounds totally reasonable to you and me. But the way the Chinese would hear that if Biden were saying, ‘I want to be in your grill. I want to get in your face. I want to do all these . have objection and by the way, I want it to be done without any risk to me.'”

No one who has served in the US government is as familiar with Xi as Biden is. He has spent days in one-on-one meetings with Xi when they were both vice presidents, giving him rare insight into the intentions and motivations of the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

Originally an extrovert, Biden has long made personal diplomacy a centerpiece of his foreign policy doctrine. Chemistry matters.

“I know we make foreign policy as this great, great skill, which is somehow like a secret code,” Biden said at a 2021 news conference after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. ” “All foreign policy is a logical extension of personal relationships. It’s the way human nature works.

Knowing Xi, Biden hopes to use those insights to keep the US and China on a safer footing. A recent security assessment written by US intelligence officials warns that China seeks to build a “world-class military” capable of “offsetting perceived US military superiority”.

For his part, Xi believes the US is bent on “containment” of China.

A new military deal inked by the Biden administration underscores how differently the two countries view the world. Biden traveled to San Diego on Monday to announce a deal with Australia and the United Kingdom that stationed nuclear submarines in Canberra in hopes of deterring Chinese aggression in the Pacific. But for Xi, the move may look like the latest example of US “encirclement” and China’s “containment”.

Another senior Biden administration official said, “The way the system is currently designed in China, there is a growing sense that you have to talk at the leader level to make decisions.”

“The President’s belief in the importance of bilateral personal relationships has been validated in the US-China” dynamic, the official continued. “But it is also our only option. There is no other place where we can connect so deeply creatively.

Biden’s approach differs from that of his one-time running mate. Former President Barack Obama, more aloof and self-contained, never placed much importance on personal relationships as a means of governing. In his memoir, “A Promised Land”, he wrote of his non-existent rapport with Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. During a particularly prominent meeting with Hu in 2009, Obama wrote that he had been “tempted more than once to suggest that we build a Can save other’s time.”

Biden is not one to exchange memos and leave it at that. One of his mentors was Mike Mansfield, a former senator from Montana who later became the US ambassador to Japan. Russell, a former Obama administration official, said one of the lessons Mansfield drummed into Biden was “how important it was to hear what the other person had to say”. “I had extensive conversations with Biden about personal diplomacy when he was vice president. … Joe Biden’s DNA and foreign policy doctrine have a lot in common.

As Obama’s vice president, Biden traveled to China in 2011 with Xi, who was considered a rising star. After a set of formal meetings, they left the Chinese capital and went to Chengdu in the southwest, where they broke ties, took a walk together and found themselves at one point on a high school basketball court.

“Somebody had a ball over there and Biden picked it up and started shooting,” said Robert Wang, a former US diplomat who made the visit. “He missed the first eight or nine shots and finally made it. Then, he turned and passed the ball to Shea, and Shea shook his head. That’s it; he wouldn’t try it.

“But Xi was smiling and he was friendly,” he continued. “Clearly, Biden thought this was something he could do and maybe be effective at.”

Speaking through translators, they asked each other free-flowing questions. Biden questioned Shea about what kept him up at night, recalled Russell, who accompanied Biden on the trip. Xi asked about civilian control of the military in the US and how the system works.

It would be an exaggeration to say that they developed a friendship; According to officials who have seen them interact, a careful deference may have been more appropriate. When they meet in Bali, Indonesia, in November for a summit of the Group of 20 major economies, they will refer to their time together in China 12 years ago — not as a warm reminiscence as much as to reinforce various points of view. The second senior official said.

The official said, Biden considers Xi “very rigid, unbalanced – a nationalist who believes in his own version of Chinese exceptionalism.” “The president has said it privately and on the record: He doesn’t have a democratic bone. [Xi’s] Body.”

Some analysts said that if nothing else, the relationship between the presidents could mask misunderstandings between the leaders that have triggered past conflicts.

“I’ve talked to Biden about this: He’s very proud of his relationship with Xi. I don’t think it leads to trust, but it does lead to a level of respect,” said Ian Bremer, president of consulting firm Eurasia Group. “Generally, the relationship [between the U.S. and China] A little more stable because Biden is there. I believe.”

Others are suspicious. Some China watchers say hard national interests, not more amorphous personal ties, will ultimately govern how the US and China navigate a perilous time for both.

Former President Donald Trump attempted a charm offensive of sorts. He invited Shea to his Mar-a-Lago resort in 2017 and served her a “beautiful” slice of chocolate cake. It hasn’t made Xi any more transparent about the origins and spread of Covid-19 three years later.

Obama, hoping to loosen things up, invited Xi to a summit meeting in 2013 at the Sunnylands resort in Southern California. They talked about their differences in formal meetings, but strolled the field together in shirtsleeves. Nevertheless, China defied the wishes of the Obama administration by building military capabilities in the South China Sea.

“Xi has been open about dismantling the US-led global order,” said Michael Doran, a former White House national security official under former President George W. Bush. “How much can you charm a man into not having that aspiration?”



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