Joe Biden, Xi Jinping set to steal APEC spotlight with talks to steady ties. For just the second time in over three years, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet in person for summit discussions in San Francisco next week. Despite this, little camaraderie and no significant agreements are on the horizon.
The meeting, which took place on the fringes of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, comes after a six-month effort by the United States to confront its geopolitical adversary, which included multiple unreturned cabinet-level visits, and to mend diplomatic ties following the U.S. downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon in February.
According to Stanford University China researcher Oriana Skylar Mastro, “this is going to overshadow anything that happens at APEC.”
Beijing has not officially confirmed Xi will attend the APEC meeting, which takes place from November 15 to 17, even though U.S. officials stated there was “agreement in principle” for Xi and Biden to meet in San Francisco, one year after their previous encounter on the margins of the G20 conference in Bali.
APEC, a consortium of twenty-one economies, is responsible for about half of world commerce and around 62% of global GDP. However, it has gradually become a battlefield for geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China.
Biden administration officials say that announcing the results of meetings is an old-fashioned way to figure out how relations with China are going. However, experts have found some possible positive signs, such as more commercial flights between the two countries or steps toward working together on more complex issues, such as stopping the flow of chemicals made in China that are used to make fentanyl.
Although U.S. officials have warned that it may take some time to restore completely functioning interaction between the two forces, they have also voiced some hope about improvements in the mostly severed military connections. According to some observers, Beijing perceives U.S. military provocations in the region. Hence, Beijing wants ambiguity in defense ties to limit such actions.
“It’s going to be very business-like, very hard-nosed—a lot on the agenda that they’re both going to be trying to work through,” stated Victor Cha, Senior Asia Specialist, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC (CSIS). “But at the same time, I guess talking is better than not talking.”
A ROUGH GET
In reaction to Washington’s urgency to set up a meeting, China has been elusive, implying that Xi’s presence depended on the United States demonstrating “sufficient sincerity.”
Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for giving in to Beijing’s demands. Still, they contend that since the stakes are so high, direct communication—especially at the leader level—is essential to controlling tensions and keeping superpower disagreements over matters like Taiwan and the South China Sea from degenerating into full-scale warfare.
Notwithstanding the challenges in organizing the summit, China has been facing economic challenges following years of rapid economic expansion and has indicated that it desires closer relations by consenting to preliminary meetings, including the nuclear weapons control talks that Washington has been requesting for years.
Next week, there will likely be protests in San Francisco; some will favor Beijing, while others will be against China’s human rights record. Biden, who will also be entertaining the crowd alongside Xi, will welcome other APEC leaders, such as those from Vietnam, the Philippines, Canada, and Mexico.
The United States will try to position itself as the most active economic partner for Asia, in contrast to a slowing China, according to trade expert Matthew Goodman, who served as the White House coordinator for the previous APEC conference that the United States hosted in 2011.
“There are a lot of concerns about China’s economic conditions and its policies in the region,” said Goodman. “I don’t think they’re going to explicitly try and twist the knife as it were, but I think they will try to show by comparison that the U.S. is growing well.”
Trade U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has stated that the United States would not force APEC countries to choose between Beijing and Washington. Yellen will meet with Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng this week in San Francisco. She said that although the United States was becoming less reliant on China, a complete economic decoupling between the two countries was “simply not practical.”
However, Washington has stated unequivocally that it will support friends and allies in opposing Beijing’s “coercion” of economies, which is using economic pressure to force governments to follow China’s objectives. China has already charged the United States with the same offense.
“We welcome any nation or economy that is confronting economic coercive threats from the People’s Republic of China,” Melanie Hart, a senior advisor on State Department strategy toward China, declared on Monday.
A Pew Research Center survey that shows Biden is outperforming Xi in terms of public perception and that most respondents in 24 countries still see the United States as the world’s most powerful economy will encourage him.
The president of the United States will be keen to enhance that perception by demonstrating advancements in the American-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, an endeavor designed to intensify involvement in Asia to rival China.
However, according to trade experts, Washington hasn’t been able to persuade Asia that it is anything more than a token substitute for a comprehensive regional trade agreement since President Donald Trump resigned in 2017.
Following China’s recent announcement of its first-ever quarterly shortfall in foreign direct investment, Xi will be keen to attract American companies. U.S. business organizations and think tanks focused on foreign policy wanted to jointly welcome Xi for dinner in San Francisco, according to two people familiar with the planning.
CSIS China specialist Jude Blanchette told reporters, “We’re going to see a series of high-level engagements between Chinese and U.S. companies and investors, trying to send a signal that China is open for business.” “Companies flocking to meet with Xi Jinping and have dinner with him,” he claimed, was one example of that.