Column: Can Biden and Xi Jinping get rid of the conflict through negotiation?

Turning points in global politics are usually not announced in advance. But the complicated and dangerous relationship between the United States and China may reach such a moment on Monday, when President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold talks. Virtual summit.

In the past ten years, under the leadership of three US presidents, confrontations between the two superpowers have become more frequent as an increasingly confident China clashed with the United States and its allies.

After the ambitious nationalist Xi Jinping came to power in Beijing, friction broke out during President Obama’s administration. President Trump intensified the conflict, imposing high tariffs on Chinese goods and accusing the Xi Jinping administration of causing the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Biden took office, many people in both countries expected tensions to ease – but the new president kept Trump’s tariffs unchanged and made it clear that he wanted to negotiate new rules to limit China’s behavior.

In March of this year, the meeting between Secretary of State Anthony J. Brinken and China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi began in Alaska. Bitter communication Allegations against trade and human rights.

Months of friction ensued. US officials criticized China for bullying small Asian countries and suppressing its Muslim Uyghur minority. The Chinese Air Force has increased its number of operations near Taiwan, which is an autonomous island claimed by Beijing to be part of its territory; the United States, Britain, and Canada sent warships through the Taiwan Strait to demonstrate the power of the Allies.

The US Pacific Command warned that China might attack Taiwan in 2027; Biden said he has an obligation to help the island Defend yourself.

Pentagon officials warned that China is accelerating its military buildup and is preparing to quadruple its nuclear weapons to 1,000 warheads by 2030.

The United States has strengthened its alliance in Asia, including an agreement to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines as part of the new agreement. Military treaty It is called AUKUS.

It looks and sounds like a ruthless conflict.

Biden’s aides said that some friction is necessary. Last week, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (Jake Sullivan) stated that it is important to “show that China is promoting other efforts.” [countries] The surrounding will not succeed in the end. “

This confrontation brought another benefit to Biden: It helped two parts of his domestic economic plan win bipartisan support in Congress, namely his $12 trillion infrastructure bill and a $250 billion technology The expenditure measures were quickly called the “China Act.”

His tone is not subtle.

“If we don’t act, they will eat our lunch,” the president told senators in February, referring to the competition with Beijing.

Soon, some members of Congress urged the president and the government to take a tougher attitude towards China, especially on the Taiwan issue.

The government seems to have accidentally discovered the story of the apprentice wizard: it has produced a new and tougher consensus on China, but the anti-Beijing enthusiasm may get out of control.

“They are digging a pit that is difficult to get out of,” a former senior official in the Obama administration told me. “If this becomes a zero-sum situation, one side must win and the other side must lose, that is a self-fulfilling prophecy”-toward war.

By September, Biden and his assistants began to stop digging.

“We do not seek a cold war or a world divided into rigid groups,” the president told the United Nations.

Sullivan said last week that all the United States wants is “to establish conditions for effective and healthy competition… to develop protective measures and risk reduction measures to ensure that things do not turn into conflict.”

He added that the United States hopes to cooperate with China on issues such as climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Last week, the United States and China announced a joint plan to slow down global warming at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland. This is a good sign-this is a last-minute effort with a small scope, but its effect is to save Xi Jinping and Biden. If the summit fails, this is the responsibility.

This week’s meeting between the presidents of the two countries is their first full-scale summit and may involve a long list of issues: nuclear proliferation, trade negotiations, easing military tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and even visa requirements.

But government officials are carefully lowering the threshold.

An assistant to Biden told me that the goal is to “maintain open channels of communication, clarify America’s intentions and priorities, and manage competition among our countries responsibly… It’s about setting conditions for effective competition.”

In other words, borrowing the Cold War term from the Soviet Union, the goal is to make it possible to “peacefully coexist” between two incompatible governments.

Even then it is not easy. The friction accumulated over the past decade clearly shows this.

“Intense competition” among economic, diplomatic, and nuclear superpowers has never been an easy thing to manage, and a summit will not end their differences. But it can begin the process of dissolving them, which will be an important step.

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