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Xi and Biden try to re-route mined relations during the Trump era

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Kuldeep Singh
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A confrontation between China and the United States will undoubtedly be a catastrophe for both countries and for the world, Xi said

China and the United States attempted to re-establish the battered relations between the world’s two largest economic powers through the first phone call among their presidents, in which Xi Jinping warned Joe Biden that “a confrontation will be a catastrophe.” “A clash between China and the United States will undoubtedly be a catastrophe for both countries and the world,” said Xi, quoted by the state news agency Xinhua.

Collisions between the two powers on plans such as commercial, diplomatic or technological had been frequent during the government of former US President Donald Trump, a path that Beijing wants to avoid at all costs since, among other results, it has damaged several of its companies, such as the technology giant Huawei or the semiconductor manufacturer SMIC.

In this context, it was not surprising that Xi viewed cooperation between the two countries as “the only right choice for both sides” and praised the more than four decades of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington as a contribution “to peace, stability and global prosperity.”

New Year, New Life?

The excuse for the call – or at least it is guided by the texts published by Xinhua, on the Chinese side, and by the White House website, on the American side – was the lunar New Year, the most popular holiday in China, which this Friday will enter the Year of the Ox.

Thus, Biden “conveyed his congratulations and best wishes to the Chinese people, and then both leaders proceeded to address various rugged issues in a game of dialectical table tennis the outcome of which will be appreciated only with the passage of time.

The priorities of the new president of the United States, he said, are to “protect the security, prosperity, health and way of life of the American people” to which he added the preservation of “a free and open Indo-Pacific”, an area of ​​important trade routes of great geopolitical relevance in which China, with its recent growth, has been gaining much weight.

In this regard, Xi said that “both sides should act in accordance with world trends, jointly safeguard peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and make historic contributions to promote world peace and development.”

China’s Red Lines

Biden delved further into the thorny territory by “underscoring his fundamental concerns about coercive and unjust economic practices in Beijing, the heavy hand in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang (northwestern region of China), and increasingly authoritarian actions in the area, including Taiwan.”

At this point, Xi did not change China’s official discourse, both with respect to the sovereignty of Taiwan (governed autonomously since 1949, but whose sovereignty Beijing claims) or about the multiple complaints of human rights violations against religious minorities in Xinjiang or the growing loss of freedoms in Hong Kong.

“The issues involving Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang are internal issues related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said, adding that “the United States should respect China’s core interests and address these issues prudently.”

“In a highly uncertain international situation, China and the United States bear special international obligations and responsibilities as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council,” the Chinese president added.

Xi opted for the mechanisms of dialogue between the two countries to be reestablished “to correctly understand the intentions of the policies of each one and avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations,” mechanisms that can be extended to the economic, financial and compliance with the law, as well as between both armies.

Toast to future relationships

“You have said that the United States,” Xi told Biden, “can be defined in one word: possibilities. We hope that the possibilities now point towards an improvement in China-US relations.”

For Xi, cooperation between the two sides will serve to offer “tangible benefits for the two peoples and contribute to the fight against the covid-19 pandemic, promote global economic recovery and maintain regional peace and stability.” 

According to the version published by the White House, Xi and Biden also discussed issues of international interest beyond the pandemic, such as climate change or preventing the proliferation of weapons.

For his part, the US president was interested in obtaining “practical commitments that yield results, as long as they serve the interests of the American people” and Washington’s allies. The Chinese side also noted that the two countries “will maintain close communication” in the future. This was the first phone call between the two leaders on record since Biden’s arrival at the White House and it took place on Wednesday night Washington time, Thursday morning in Beijing time.

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