China-Us: relations back on course, through main differences remain

SAN FRANCISCO – While relations between Justin Trudeau’s Canada and China have hit rock bottom, Joe Biden’s United States is trying to reconnect. And the four hours of talks between the American president and the Chinese president Xi Jinping seem to work: agreements on several fronts, openings on some “hot” topics, handshakes and even the sending of some Pandas to the USA, “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples”, as the Chinese leader defined them.

“We have made some important progress, the talks have been very constructive and productive” Joe Biden said after Tuesday’s face-to-face meeting with Xi Jinping at a residence outside San Francisco, underlining the importance of “overcoming differences” in a world “large enough for the coexistence and success of China and the United States”, which “cannot turn their backs”, much less against the backdrop of a global economy “recovering but with slow momentum, weighed down by protectionism”, as Xi Jinping echoed, stating that he believes in a “promising future” of US-China relations. Commitments confirmed to cooperate on the climate, to discuss artificial intelligence, to collaborate in the fight against drug trafficking (in particular “Fentanyl”, the synthetic opioid made in China which is causing a massacre in the USA), to re-establish the canceled military hotline from Beijing after the controversial visit, in 2022, of the then American speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.

But Taiwan is precisely one of the unresolved and perhaps unsolvable problems in relations between the USA and China: Biden said that he reiterated the American policy which recognizes only one China but he made it clear to Xi that the USA expects that China will not interfere in Taiwan’s elections, underscoring the importance of peace and stability in the island strait. But the Beijing leader, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, warned that the United States should “take concrete actions to honor its commitment not to support Taiwan’s independence, stop arming it and support the peaceful reunification of China”, a goal he defined as “unstoppable”.

Another issue is represented by American actions “regarding export control, investment verification and unilateral sanctions that seriously damage China’s legitimate interests”. The request is that they be removed “so as to provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for Chinese businesses”. But Biden also lamented the lack of a level playing field in economic competition, warning that the treatment of intellectual property discourages investment. US sanctions and limitations on hi-tech exports and for Washington by the lack of equal competitive conditions.

Differences aside, relations between the US and China will expand: “I believe that once the door to bilateral relations is opened, it will never be closed again,” said President Xi Jinping, speaking in San Francisco at the gala dinner of the US business community -China, held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit. “We must not create obstacles of various kinds or chilling effects”, added Xi to the audience of around four hundred prominent figures including the number one of Apple, Tim Cook, and Pfizer, Albert Bourla, a few hours after the summit with the president Joe Biden. China “never bets against the US, never interferes in its internal affairs, and has no intention of challenging or ousting the United States”. Xi added that “we will instead look forward to seeing a confident, open, growing and prosperous America. Likewise, the United States should not bet against China or interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Instead, it should welcome a peaceful, stable and prosperous China. Win-win cooperation is the trend of the times”. China and the United States “are fully capable of helping each other succeed and achieve win-win outcomes,” Xi added in his lengthy speech. China is ready “to be a partner and friend of the USA. The fundamental principles we follow in managing bilateral relations are mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation”.

There was no lack of the usual “joke” by Biden who, undiplomatically, once again defined Xi as a “dictator”, in the sense – he then attempted to nuance – that he is at the helm of a “communist” country: words defined by Beijing “extremely wrong”. But the “friendship” Pandas will arrive anyway.