Analysts predict that when China and the US face other problems, they will need to manage their differences.
Taiwan’s Taipei — According to observers, the first meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping this year is an indication that the two countries intend to strengthen their cooperation.
On the fringes of the APEC Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday, Xi and Biden struck a deal to work together on topics like climate change, artificial intelligence, and reducing the amount of fentanyl that is imported into the US.
Additionally, they promised to reestablish military connections, which had been suspended during US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year. China views Taiwan as its own territory.
Analysts stated that although if none of the results were unexpected, they do constitute a positive step forward.
As the two sides head into a year full of events that might see tensions flare up again, “what this meeting achieves is it helps regenerate a little bit of political capital,” according to Amanda Hsiao, a senior China analyst at the Crisis Group with a base in Taipei.
While the US is getting ready for its own presidential election in November of next year, Taiwan will have its presidential elections on January 13. China relations will probably be a major theme in both campaigns.
“One interpretation of this is that this gathering serves as a small buffer against the inevitable escalation of hostilities,” Hsiao explained.
Hsiao cited China’s post-meeting statements, which called on the US to explicitly endorse “peaceful unification with Taiwan” and to cease providing arms to the Taiwanese military. These were encouraging signs, she noted.
She stated, “The requests are more specific,” which raises the possibility that “tensions may be easing over Taiwan because, in a sense, this is Beijing’s attempt at negotiating; they’re attempting to see what they can get out of the US.”
The meeting was deemed a success for Biden by Alicia Garcia Herrero, head economist for Asia-Pacific at Natixis, who said that Xi was compelled to promise that China would not invade Taiwan in the near future.
This is a significant victory, she added, as it puts Xi in the clear about what he has long claimed to be “domestic affairs.” “Well, that’s pretty impressive.”
Nevertheless, observers will be keenly monitoring China’s response to the approaching Taiwanese election. Beijing views William Lai, the presidential candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party of the island, and the party’s current leader as “separatists.”
Beijing’s playbook has included launching missiles at Taiwan’s main island, conducting military drills in the Taiwan Strait, or increasing air and naval patrols in the area when it feels enraged with Taipei.
Beijing could erupt once more if Lai prevails, but this week his chances were hampered by the agreement of his rivals from two more politically connected to China parties to cooperate in the poll.
After the Biden-Xi summit, Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the German Marshall Fund’s Indo-Pacific program in the US, stated that it was critical that military communication be resumed.
The move, in her words, is “very significant, but it remains to be seen whether concrete progress is made towards avoiding accidents.”
In the Taiwan Strait, which China considers to be its internal territory, American and Chinese ships and aircraft have come dangerously close to colliding many times in recent years. Like the majority of nations, the US frequently conducts freedom of navigation drills with its partners in the strait because it considers those seas to be international waters.
For a considerable time, experts have been concerned that an incident would inadvertently trigger a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
Biden and Xi still have a lot of reasons to temper their antagonism, even if it was never anticipated that the US and China would completely set aside their disagreements, according to Glaser. In addition to contesting for reelection in the highly charged US presidential race, Biden must contend with two wars: the one in the Middle East and the one in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, US export curbs and prohibitions on outbound investment in key technology, such as semiconductors, are severely hurting China’s economy, which is already facing several challenges, including its property market.
This fear, according to Kharis Templeman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution’s Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region, was what pushed Xi in the direction of a more amicable meeting with Biden.
Since the G20 in Bali last year, which seemed to go well until a few weeks later when China was allegedly accused of flying a surveillance balloon over the continental US in February, the two presidents have not met.
“Xi is in a slightly more uncomfortable position now than he was a year ago, as evidenced by his emphasis on economic issues and allowing China to develop and take its rightful place in the world,” Templeman said. “I believe that his concern over economic matters plays a part in his willingness to travel to APEC and have a bilateral side meeting with Biden.”