China-U.S. relations and the future of Asia-Pacific: A chance to turn over a new leaf
By Rabi Sankar Bosu · 2023-11-23 · Source: China Focus
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s participation in the 30th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting in San Francisco, California and his face-to-face meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden has captured the attention of the entire world.
This is President Xi’s first visit to the U.S. in the past six years since 2017 at the invitation of President Biden. It is regarded as a positive step to inject vitality into the complicated China-U.S. relationship. During the key meeting, both sides reached broad consensus on many issues and emphasized the importance of maintaining stable relations for the two countries and the whole world.
The Xi-Biden meeting
Xi’s trip to San Francisco and his face-to-face meeting with Biden carry special significance as relations between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, have witnessed a cooling spell in recent years due to the growing anti-China sentiment since Trump administration. Since taking the Oval Office in 2021, Biden had done little to stop the daunting trend in Sino-U.S. relations. In fact, the Biden administration continued the anti-China activities and sanctions on Chinese entities.
Recently, however, the China-U.S. relationship has seen a healthy development under the two presidents, with candid, constructive exchanges between top officials and other communication mechanisms working smoothly, laying a solid foundation for the success of the leaders’ summit at the Filoli Estate in south of San Francisco on November 15.
The Xi-Biden meeting undoubtedly facilitates a constructive and productive relationship between the two countries. It was the first in-person talks between the two leaders since their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali on November 14 last year.
Obviously, against the prevailing backdrop of thorny issues, including bilateral security, technology and trade forbidden or restrictions, the second diplomatic encounter in a year between two very different world leaders is highly significant in setting the course for China-U.S. relations in the new era, from a new starting point to advance the world’s most important bilateral relationship in a healthy and stable manner and to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large.
The summit was held at a critical time when the two major powers discussed the 21-month Russia-Ukraine conflict and the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. During the meeting, the two presidents exchanged views on bilateral ties including economy, trade, climate change, AI and major regional issues concerning world peace and development.
Face to face, the two heads of state put forward guiding principles on the most prominent issues between the two sides, such as developing a correct understanding of each other, properly managing differences, and strengthening dialogue and cooperation.
The outcomes of the face-to-face meeting in San Francisco have been epitomized in the words of President Xi, “China is consistently committed to having a stable, healthy and sustainable relationship with the United States. At the same time, China has interests that must be safeguarded, principles that must be upheld, and red lines that must not be crossed,” expressing hope that the two countries could be partners that respect each other and coexist in peace.
Emphasizing the joint responsibility of two major powers for the two peoples, for the world, and for history, Xi told Biden that “the world is big enough to accommodate both countries, and one country’s success is an opportunity for the other.”
Although the more-than-four-hour summit did not feature any dramatic headlines or agreements, the two presidents tried to bridge the two countries with a stable development path. And this is very important not to make the frosty Chinese-U.S. relationship worse.
Describing the meeting as “some of the most productive”, Biden wrote on social media site X: “I value the conversation I had today with President Xi because I think it’s paramount that we understand each other clearly, leader to leader. There are critical global challenges that demand our joint leadership. And today, we made real progress.”
It’s important to note that the two presidents reached an agreement on enhancing cooperation on AI and resuming military-to-military communications that were cut after the then House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited China’s Taiwan region in August 2022.
To put China-U.S. relations on a stable development path, the Biden administration must first stop meddling in China’s internal affairs. On the one hand, the U.S. government says it respects the one-China policy regarding China’s Taiwan region, while on the other, it continues arms sales to Taiwan and maintains overt and covert official contacts with “Taiwan independence” separatists, which are adversely affecting the prospects for cross-strait peace as well as Sino-U.S. relations.
During the historic summit, the Chinese leader reminded the U.S. leader in clear terms of their obligation to adhere to the one-China principle: “The U.S. side should take real actions to honor its commitment of not supporting ‘Taiwan independence’, stop arming Taiwan, and support China’s peaceful reunification. China will realize reunification, and this is unstoppable.”
On the whole, the Xi-Biden summit is successful as both sides created a constructive atmosphere for the greater development of bilateral relations for the next few years as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted that the Xi-Biden summit went “well” and featured “mutual respect”.
International affairs must be harmonious but with recognition of diversity. There is no doubt that a conflict between the world’s two largest military powers against the backdrop of intense global turbulence would be disastrous not only for China and the U.S., but also for the entire world. President Xi said during the summit: “For China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option. It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other. And conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.”
Instead of viewing China as a competitor or systemic rival, the Biden administration should build strong friendly ties with China, as what the Chinese leader characterized as “mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation”. Surely, the development of China-U.S. ties matters a great deal for the Asia Pacific and the world as a whole. The definition of China-U.S. relations can only be friendly.
Solidarity to build an Asia-Pacific community with shared future
Themed “Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All”, this year’s APEC Meeting is witnessing the gathering of 21 APEC economic leaders representing more than 60 percent of the world’s GDP from November 11 to 17 to defend globalization and multilateralism while engaging in negotiations to solve global challenges such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Gaza conflict and developments in the Indo-Pacific region.
As the host of this year’s APEC Summit, the U.S. has focused on three overarching policy priorities to ensure an “interconnected, innovative, and inclusive” Asia-Pacific region. It is worth noting that on February 11 last year, President Biden announced a new Indo-Pacific Strategy in the context of geopolitical conflicts surrounding the Indo-Pacific region.
The main goal of Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy is to curb China’s economic and military influence in the region, which has exposed the Biden administration’s hostility to China in recent years. On the sidelines of APEC meetings, Biden also held a meeting on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which was launched in May last year to provide economic alternatives to China’s geostrategic footprint in the Indo-Pacific region. But the Biden administration should remember that efforts to check China’s rise will eventually backfire.
At this year’s APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, President Xi reiterated China’s commitments to promoting openness, inclusiveness and the common prosperity for the Asia-Pacific and the world.
“I have said on many occasions that true development is development for all. We must fully implement the U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and put development back on the international agenda as a central priority. We need to develop greater synergy in our development strategies and work together to resolve the global development deficit,” Xi said.
“China will continue to support APEC in its economic and technical cooperation and work together with other member economies to make the ‘cake’ of Asia-Pacific development bigger.”
Over the past 32 years since joining the APEC in 1991, China has actively, responsibly and effectively contributed to all areas of cooperation within APEC.
China has been among the most active APEC members in promoting collaborative initiatives and projects as evidenced by the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, China-Laos Railway, and Sirindhorn Dam in Thailand under the Belt and Road cooperation. It is reported that in 2022, China’s trade volume with other APEC members reached $3.74 trillion, accounting for 59.7 percent of China’s total foreign trade. It can be expected that China and the U.S. as the two global economic heavyweights will make the APEC mechanism more powerful by keeping their geopolitical interests aside.
Rabi Sankar Bosu is an Indian analyst and commentator. He focuses on China’s development, China-India relations and the Belt and Road Initiative.