Anticipations were not high prior to the scheduled discussion between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco this week. Since their previous meeting in Bali a year ago, the relationship between the two countries has worsened significantly and there is a risk of it escalating into conflict. The fact that both leaders have agreed to meet in person was viewed as a positive development by many, although it was seen as the minimum expected from the two most powerful nations in the world. This meeting has laid the groundwork for rebuilding trust and working towards collaboration, despite their disagreements and ongoing competitive dynamics.
According to Demetri Sevastopulo, Ryan McMorrow, and Joe Leahy at the Financial Times, the summit is a positive indication of progress following a period of intense tensions.
During a press conference following Xi’s departure to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco, Biden stated that they had engaged in highly beneficial and fruitful discussions.
It was unlikely that a single summit would be able to address the underlying problems fueling the competition between the United States and China. China is resentful of the fact that the world order has been shaped to reflect American ideals, while the US is concerned about the emergence of a potential rival that seeks to limit their military presence in the western Pacific.
According to experts, this provided an opportunity for smoother interactions in the future. This will likely ease the concerns of US allies in the area, who are anticipating a presidential election in Taiwan at the beginning of the year and one in the US at the end.
Amanda Hsiao, a China specialist at the International Crisis Group, believes that this promotes a more cooperative atmosphere for both parties to collaborate on resolving global concerns. This also decreases the chances of the US and China unintentionally engaging in a military conflict.
Several analysts provided moderate evaluations of the results of the summit. According to Jeremy Wallace, the meeting between Biden and Xi was beneficial as discussions between two powerful countries usually are. However, the actual outcomes of the summit were limited. Bill Bishop also suggested that the US-China relationship may experience a temporary period of stability, but it is only a short-term solution. Despite achieving certain goals, David Sacks acknowledged that the underlying structural issues driving the long-term strategic competition between Washington and Beijing remain unresolved. Therefore, any decrease in tensions is likely to be brief.
Biden and Xi successfully reached several tangible outcomes. Specifically, they agreed to restart communication between high-ranking military officials and to form a task force to combat the production of illegal fentanyl in China. They also talked about regulating artificial intelligence and restated their stances on Taiwan. Biden expressed concerns about Americans being detained in China and violations of human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. During a lavish dinner for American business leaders, Xi indicated that China would gift new pandas to the United States.
There is still a gap between the two parties. The gathering did not result in a shared statement; instead, the Chinese and American authorities each released their own summaries. In his Substack newsletter, Tracking People’s Daily, Manoj Kewalramani highlighted several distinct viewpoints expressed by both sides in their respective summaries.
In regards to their relationship, Biden stated definitively that the US and China “are competing.” Xi, on the other hand, does not seem willing to acknowledge this competition, stating that “competition between major powers cannot effectively address the issues facing China, the US, and the rest of the world.”
Biden emphasized the US’s unwavering dedication to protecting our allies in the Indo-Pacific region and expressed a desire to strengthen domestic resources and collaborate with global partners. However, Xi views this as an attempt to contain China. He made it clear that the US should not try to suppress or restrict China.
During discussions on technology de-risking, Biden emphasized the importance of this for national security and reaffirmed its continuation. Xi, on the other hand, stated that China does not view it as a concern for US national security. He expressed that restricting China’s advancements in science and technology would hinder their progress and deprive the Chinese people of their right to development.
In regards to Taiwan, Xi made specific requests, such as asking the US to cease providing weapons to Taiwan and to support China’s peaceful reunification efforts. He also stressed the importance of the US not crossing “red lines” or changing their stance. In response, Biden stated that the US is against any one-sided alterations to the current situation and urged the People’s Liberation Army to exercise restraint. While both leaders value stability, their stances do not completely align with each other.
Before the meeting, state-run Chinese media toned down their criticism of the United States. Following the meeting, there was still some positive coverage, as seen on the front page of the People’s Daily, as detailed by David Bandurski of the China Media Project.
The main message conveyed by China’s state media today, following Xi Jinping’s meeting with US President Joe Biden in California, can be summarized in two words: friendly and firm. The front page of the Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily, has a welcoming atmosphere. The focus is on images of Xi and Biden shaking hands warmly, with a smile on Xi’s face, and walking together on the beautiful grounds of Filoli Estate in California. The photos are positioned to emphasize the symmetry of their relationship.
In short, the overall positive atmosphere displayed on the front page of People’s Daily reflects the desired tone of the CCP leadership. It is noteworthy that the meeting between Biden and Xi was not only characterized by frank and thorough discussions, but also by the warm welcome Xi received from Biden at the Filoli Estate, as reported in the lead story today. [Source]
Xi’s placement in official APEC group photos was downplayed by other state media through strategic cropping.
It is crucial to centralize Xi Jinping 🙏 pic.twitter.com/OtfKJUdpti
“I’m not able to reword this code or math formula.”
The broadcasting of news was meticulously selected. Chinese censors interrupted Bloomberg TV’s coverage of Biden’s press conference four times. Phil Cunningham’s CCTV Follies Substack demonstrated how Xi received ten times more air time, images, and spoken words on CCTV’s evening news compared to Biden.
However, it is during his televised speeches that Xi’s inherent dominance and talkativeness are on full display. Xi always speaks first, last, and nearly all the words in between.
CCTV broadcasts a combined twenty instances of Biden’s reactions, while also featuring over twenty shots of Xi giving speeches. In the footage, Biden appears consistently engaged and responsive, occasionally nodding in agreement and other times taking notes.
When Joe Biden eventually speaks, CCTV only allows him a small portion of time, and much of that shortened time is used for Biden’s customary words of greeting to Xi Jinping. [Source]
Chinese social media users had a range of reactions to the recent events. One person on Weibo commented, “This meeting is a significant moment,” while another expressed caution, saying “I hope the US follows through on their words.” In regards to Biden’s statement about Xi being a dictator, a user on X joked, “If he had said ‘Xi is China’s emperor,’ Xi would have been thrilled.” On a more positive note, the hashtag “#Biden Points at Hongqi Car, Calls it Beautiful” had gained over 300 million views on Weibo by Thursday night after Biden complimented Xi’s car before departing. Jane Cai from the South China Morning Post reported on some of the discussions taking place on Chinese social media.
On Thursday, the top trending hashtags on the social media site Weibo were “Biden confirms no backing for Taiwan independence,” “China to ultimately reunite Taiwan with mainland,” “US should not aim to suppress and contain China,” “Earth is large enough for both nations to thrive,” and “Farewell between two leaders.”
On the country’s highly regulated social media sites, only a fraction of the numerous comments were viewable to users. Many of these posts urged for “respect, peaceful coexistence, cooperation, and mutual benefit”. [Source]
Xi’s trip to the United States also brought together various activist organizations that were protesting against him. Anna Kwok, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), spoke about the collaboration between Hong Kong, Uyghur, and Tibetan protesters, saying “Our issues are no longer separate. It’s now about how marginalized communities can come together and unite our efforts.” However, members of HKDC Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) reported incidents of physical harassment from pro-China groups during their protests. One group allegedly surrounded Uyghur concentration camp survivor Tursunay with Chinese flags, while another attacked SFT protesters with umbrellas and metal poles and followed them home. A masked group, believed to be Chinese security agents according to HKDC, also assaulted four SFT protesters and stole their banner.
The recent acts of violence represent ongoing strain in the overall relationship between the two countries. While President Biden’s efforts to engage with President Xi have led to some positive developments, they have also disregarded some human rights issues.
Biden convinced Xi to make a concession regarding fentanyl, but at a high cost: lifting sanctions on a Chinese police facility that was previously labeled as being involved in violating the human rights of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups, according to the Commerce Department. This information comes from @carmenpaun’s report.
— Phelim Kine “老 康“ (@PhelimKine) November 17, 2023