American-Chinese détente

Xi Jinping and Joseph Biden in Bali on 14 November 2022. © Source: White House, Photo: Adam Schultz, Photo: Bali, 14.11.2022

Vienna, Austria (Weltexpress). After the tensions between China and the USA – in the shadow of the Ukraine war and the Taiwan issue that came to a head in the wake of the visit of top American politician Nancy Pelosi to Taipei – had increased ominously since August, there now seems to be a sudden reversal of the trend: Hands are being shaken persistently and smiles are allowed again. On the day before the start of the G-20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali, American President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office in January 2021. The duration of the mutual handshake (nine seconds) and the length of the conversation (three hours twelve minutes) were meticulously recorded: both remarkable. Xi said in front of running cameras that he was looking forward to working with Biden. Just a polite phrase or a clear signal of relaxation?

Xi had previously sent a very different signal: In the report on the 20th Party Congress, national security was given significantly more space than before – the term was mentioned 60 percent more often than in the last report of 2017. This should not be underestimated. While economic development continues to be named as a top priority there, Xi places security almost on an equal footing with it. The two parallel initiatives of “global development” and “global security” pose a direct challenge to the world order. The new leadership team Xi is gathering around him features more defense and nuclear experts – the largest number of officials dealing with security in a long time. Chen Wenqing is the first ex-intelligence chief to join the Politburo.

On the other hand, the friendly, even cordial atmosphere in Bali should not hide the fact that Biden is taking a tough stance towards China. For example, he has de facto decided on an embargo on the export of highly developed – and thus militarily usable – semiconductors to China. In Bali, the US president expressed confidence that a new Cold War was not imminent, but at the same time clearly warned his Chinese counterpart against the use of force in the Taiwan conflict.

Biden criticized China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour towards Taiwan. This endangers peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and in the entire region. Xi, in turn, reassured the audience that his country had no intention of challenging or ousting the USA. A final secession of Taiwan from China – i.e. a formal declaration of sovereignty – would not be permitted by “the Chinese people” under any circumstances.

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