Because the nation ready to rejoice the Lunar New Yr — albeit, in a strictly restricted, coronavirus style — Chinese language chief Xi Jinping had a cellphone name with US President Joe Biden, the first time the two men have spoken since the latter’s election. Like many issues within the post-Donald Trump period, the decision was notable largely for its normality, a return to how issues had been previous to 2016.
Based on a concise White Home readout of the decision, Biden “underscored his basic considerations about Beijing’s coercive and unfair financial practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and more and more assertive actions within the area, together with towards Taiwan.”
In briefing reporters, each earlier than and after, US officers officers performed up Biden’s willingness to confront Xi and his lengthy historical past of partaking with China, having met Xi himself a number of occasions when Biden was vice president to Barack Obama.
“Trendy-day historians can actually affirm that there are few presidents who got here into this job with extra of a historical past on partaking with Chinese language management,” White Home Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, including that the decision was “strong and complete.”

Complete it may need been, however in line with Chinese language state media, what robustness there was didn’t lead to any stress or dangerous feeling — fairly the other.

“Xi-Biden phone name sends optimistic alerts to world,” state information company Xinhua said in a commentary, including that Biden had pledged to speak in “the spirit of mutual respect and to enhance mutual understanding and keep away from miscommunication and miscalculation.”
In a separate summary of the call, Xinhua quoted Xi as saying to Biden: “You have got stated that America may be outlined in a single phrase: Prospects. We hope the probabilities will now level towards an enchancment of China-US relations.”

That account went into significantly extra element concerning the name than the White Home readout, and but the problems of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, such pivotal factors in line with Washington’s account, are relegated to a single sentence within the fourteenth paragraph. Xi is quoted as dismissing Biden’s considerations out of hand, saying all three areas are “China’s inner affairs and concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“The US facet ought to respect China’s core pursuits and act prudently,” Xi is quoted as saying.

With out a recording of the decision itself, there is no such thing as a strategy to inform which account is probably the most correct; of their summaries, each side are speaking to a home viewers, Biden in claiming to be robust on problems with human rights, Xi in saying he was equally robust in pushing again.

These obvious variations reveal one thing of the difficulties dealing with Biden in coping with China, a rustic he recently described as America’s “most critical competitor.”

Although Biden could want to seem robust on China — and should pursue insurance policies that take this stance past the rhetorical — he’s coping with a rustic that’s extra highly effective than it has ever been, one which weathered an intensely hostile Trump administration, and has come largely out of the coronavirus pandemic stronger and safer, whereas the US stays mired in various levels of political and social strife.

He’s additionally coping with a rustic that’s greater than adept at enjoying this recreation. The response to the Biden name in China is that it represents an opportunity for a brand new starting, suggesting Xi and his administration are unconcerned by Biden’s seemingly robust stance.

Biden is just not the primary US chief lately to handle uncomfortable points when speaking with senior Chinese language officers and diplomats. And as earlier US administrations have proven, denouncing Beijing publicly does not essentially preclude the 2 sides from working collectively.

Invoice Clinton, who as soon as condemned the “butchers of Beijing” following the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath, additionally lobbied for China to affix the World Commerce Group (WHO), massively boosting the Chinese language financial system and the nation’s standing on the worldwide stage.

His successors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, whereas often experiencing moments of stress with Beijing, additionally sought to associate with China on points equivalent to North Korea, Iran, and cybersecurity, in addition to boosting financial engagement.

In a visit to Beijing in 2009, Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, stated that Washington’s lobbying on problems with Tibet, Taiwan and human rights, “cannot intrude with the worldwide financial disaster, the worldwide local weather change disaster, and the safety disaster.”
The most important distinction that Trump introduced to his predecessors was a willingness to explode the US-China relationship fully. So far, Biden’s administration has been joyful to retain most of Trump’s tariffs and sanctions, as a negotiating software if nothing else, and this week Biden ordered the Pentagon to review its China strategy, whereas persevering with to ship forces to the South China Sea.

Nevertheless, the Biden administration has additionally made clear there are points equivalent to local weather change wherein the 2 sides share a nationwide curiosity, and which it should search cooperation with Beijing. Of extra potential concern to China, Biden has additionally urged he might rally European leaders and different allies — extra prepared to take heed to him than Trump — in opposing Beijing on numerous points, although how this gels with additionally wanting Chinese language engagement in different areas stays to be seen.

In a name between Biden’s Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Chinese language diplomat Yang Jiechi, the latter stated “all sides ought to deal with caring for its personal home affairs,” including that “nobody can cease the good rejuvenation of the Chinese language nation.”

Since Clinton, Washington has been criticized by China hawks for being too mushy on Beijing, for not utilizing the leverage it had whereas the 2 powers had been unequal. Biden is maybe the primary US chief for whom this isn’t essentially an possibility, and he will likely be coping with a superpower that’s on an equal footing.

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