United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held the first virtual summit on November 15, 2021.
The White House in a press release covered opening statements by both the Presidents before commencement and outlined overall approach of the two leaders - preventing competition between the two countries veering into a conflict.
President Biden thus stated, “As I’ve said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended. Just simple, straightforward competition”.
Towards this end he proposed setting up, “common sense guardrails”, to “work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change”.
The reference was to the US and China last minute consensus before COP 26 Climate Summit in Scotland UK which Xi did not attend but delegations participated.
President Biden emphasised that US China relations were important for the two countries as world leaders and “How our bilateral relationship evolves, seems to me, will have a profound impact not only on our countries but, quite frankly, the rest of the world”.
The two had, “a responsibility to the world, as well as to our people. It’s why we believe –- and you and I have talked about this — all countries have to play by the same rules of the road, why the United States is always going to stand up for our interests and values and those of our allies and partners”.
The agenda proposed by President Biden included concerns such as, “ human rights, to economics, to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
Communications were important the US President emphasised.
In response President Xi expressed that it was good to have a face to face meeting and, “see my old friend”.
“Right now, both China and the United States are at critical stages of development, and humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together,” Xi said and added, “As the world’s two largest economies and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation”.
“A sound and steady China-U.S. relationship is required for advancing our two countries’ respective development and for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment, including finding effective responses to global challenges such as climate change, which you referenced, and the COVID pandemic,” President Xi said.
Xi stated, that, “China and the United States should respect each other, coexist in peace, and pursue win-win cooperation,” and confirmed that he is ready to work with Biden to “build consensus, take active steps, and move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction. Doing so would advance the interests of our two peoples and meet the expectation of the international community”.
The opening statements on both sides the US and China by the two Presidents have been positive and indicates that there is a degree of consensus that has been created prior to the Summit by foreign ministers to take the relationship forward despite some very contentious issues such as Taiwan, trade and technology competition and human rights in Xinjiang.
The final outcome of the virtual Summit will take some time to be revealed, yet both Presidents are possibly devoid of the baggage especially Xi after the 6th Plenum where he was virtually anointed as a leader at par with Mao – beyond Deng Xiao Ping and Xi’s predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
A question that arises at this stage is will this set-in motion a move to open up a summit between the Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It may be too early to predict such a course even though the two have held two informal summits in 2018 and 2019 after the standoff in Doklam in 2017.
However, things have moved beyond Doklam and situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh from May 2020 has been tense with a physical clash in June the same year at Galwan, Indian and Chinese leaders several differences to resolve and also meet the expectations of a domestic audience.
Given breakdown of communications between the military leaders on disengagement on the borders and lack of dialogue at the diplomatic level, there appears limited hope for restoration of talks at the highest level between India and China for now.
Yet the Biden-Xi summit raises hopes that India and Chinese leaders could possibly attempt to resolve at least temporarily the LAC standoff.