A Meeting of Necessity, Not Triumph President Joe Biden’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, held in California, aimed to stabilize the increasingly tense US-China relations. The meeting, expected to be low-key, managed to avoid further escalation in what is considered the world’s most pivotal diplomatic relationship, currently at its most strained point in five decades.
Modest Achievements Amidst Global Tensions Biden left the summit with a cautious optimism, particularly regarding the reduction of risks posed by the close operational proximity of US and Chinese forces in Asia-Pacific. Meanwhile, Xi sought to reassure his domestic and international audiences of China’s ability to manage its crucial relationship with the US amidst economic challenges.
Deep-Rooted Rivalries Remain Despite positive overtones, the summit did little to address the fundamental issues driving the US and China towards a potentially perilous rivalry. The leaders’ dialogue did not bridge the significant ideological gap, particularly Beijing’s perception of US attempts to thwart China’s rise.
Restoring Military Communication: A Key Outcome One notable achievement was the agreement to re-establish US-China military contacts, a critical step to avoid misunderstandings and accidental escalations in the Asia-Pacific region. This effort aligns with historical precedents where superpower rivals maintained communication channels to prevent conflicts.
Domestic Political Calculations and International Diplomacy Biden faced significant political risks in meeting Xi, with critics quick to accuse him of appeasement. The summit offered Biden a delicate balance to manage: achieving diplomatic stability while demonstrating a firm stance against China, crucial for his political standing and reelection prospects.
Fentanyl Export Agreement: A Potential Win A significant focus of the summit was the agreement to stem the export of fentanyl precursor chemicals from China to the US. If successful, this could be a major win for Biden, both in saving lives and providing a robust campaign point.
The Road Ahead: Continued Challenges The Biden-Xi summit, while managing to avoid further deterioration in relations, leaves many challenges ahead. The deep-seated rivalry and differing ideologies between the US and China remain unresolved, highlighting the ongoing complexities of managing this critical bilateral relationship.