Xi a Winner in Bali G20 Meeting
Biden and allies soften hostility to China
By: Toh Han Shih
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made Chinese President Xi Jinping relatively more popular with Western leaders at the G20 summit in Bali. US President Joseph Biden reached a détente with Xi in the most important meeting at the summit, where Xi also met leaders of Australia, Holland, and France.
Against a backdrop of the Biden administration forging alliances against China during the worst state of Sino-US relations since the 1970s, leaders of the US and its allies adopted a conciliatory tone in their meetings with Xi.
Meeting between Xi and Biden
Biden met Xi in person for the first time since he became US President in January 2021. The meeting lasted three and a half hours, Biden said at a press conference that night. “So we covered an awful lot of territory.”
“I’m not suggesting this is kumbaya, you know,” Biden said. “Everyone is going away with everything in agreement. But I do not believe there’s a need for concern of a new Cold War. We’re going to compete vigorously. But I’m not looking for conflict, I’m looking to manage this competition responsibly.”
Also, he said, “I was clear that China and the United States should be able to work together where we can to solve global challenges that require every nation to do its part. We discussed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, reaffirmed our shared belief in the threat where the use of nuclear weapons is totally unacceptable.”
US State Secretary Antony Blinken will travel to China at an unspecified date to keep lines of communication open between the two superpowers, Biden said. He sought to enlist Xi’s help over North Korea. He told reporters, “It’s difficult to say that I am certain that China can control North Korea, number one. Number two, I’ve made it clear to President Xi Jinping that I thought they had an obligation to attempt to make it clear to North Korea that they should not engage in long-range nuclear tests.”
On the war between Ukraine and Russia, Xi stressed the need for dialogue and peaceful resolution of the crisis, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Bali on November 14. Xi stressed the North Korean issue should be approached in a balanced manner where the legitimate concerns of North Korea are addressed, Wang said.
“And I do not think there’s any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan,” Biden predicted. This means he thinks it is unlikely that China will to war with the US over Taiwan at least for now.
But Xi did not rule out war. According to a record of the meeting by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Xi told Biden, “We hope to see, and are all along committed to, peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, but cross-strait peace and stability and ‘Taiwan independence’ are as irreconcilable as water and fire. We hope that the US side will match its words with action and abide by the one-China policy and the three joint communiqués. President Biden has said on many occasions that the United States does not support “Taiwan independence” and has no intention to use Taiwan as a tool to seek advantages in competition with China or to contain China. We hope that the US side will act on this assurance to real effect.”
Xi’s words showed his suspicion that the actions of the US have not matched its acknowledgment that the breakaway island belongs to China, especially after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited in August.
The US also harbors suspicions towards China. At an ASEAN summit in Cambodia last week, Biden reportedly expressed concerns to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen about possible Chinese military activities at the Ream Naval Base in the Southeast Asian country, a Bloomberg reporter said at a Chinese Foreign Ministry press conference in Beijing on November 14. A ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning replied that China was upgrading the naval base, which is a “normal activity” aimed at strengthening the Cambodian navy without targeting any third party.
The meeting of Xi and Biden is of great importance and will have important and far-reaching effects on future Sino-US relations, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang told reporters on November 14.
It is positive that Xi and Biden have restored communication between the two main global players, said Enodo Economics, a macroeconomic and political forecasting company in London.
“But it does not alter the fundamental direction of travel, with both the US and China determined to fight for supremacy,” according to the firm’s report. “Naturally, more communication between the US and China would benefit relations.
But the fundamental trends of Xi's China are not so easily shaken off. Xi's desire for top-down control and recovery of Taiwan will remain the main factor affecting market performance as long as he is in office.”
Xi meets leaders of France, Australia, Holland
During their meeting on November 15, French President Emmanuel Macron asked Xi to “pass messages to President Putin to avoid escalation and return seriously to the negotiating table,” Macron told reporters after talks that lasted nearly an hour.
“President Xi made the point that China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is clear and consistent; China stands for ceasefire, cessation of the conflict and peace talks. The international community should create conditions for this to happen. China will also continue to work in its way to play a constructive role,” said an article from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
France follows an independent foreign policy and opposes bloc confrontation, the Chinese Foreign ministry article quoted Macron saying. The French president told Xi France welcomes Chinese firms to his country, the article added.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted about his half-hour meeting with Xi on November 15, “It was good to discuss our relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping today. It was a positive and constructive discussion. We will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in our national interest.”
At a press conference, Albanese disclosed he had asked Xi to exercise his influence over Russia, especially regarding Russia’s threats to use tactical nuclear weapons.
In the past few years, relations between China and Australia have been rocky, marred by Chinese sanctions on Australian goods as well as Australia’s ban on Chinese technology company Huawei in 2018 and Australia’s passing of a foreign interference law in 2018, which Beijing sees as hostile actions.
Xi also met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on November 15, with the Chinese leader expressing opposition to decoupling between China and other nations, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
In an interview with Sky News on November 15, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “hopeful” that he can meet Xi at the summit. Sunak said that to solve global challenges like climate change and the war between Russia and Ukraine, it is important to engage China. However, Sunak said China poses a systemic challenge to British values and interests, and a significant threat to Britain’s economic security.
The curious case of the Russian foreign minister
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in good health after two health checks at a hospital in Bali, an Indonesian health ministry official said on November 14, while the Russian government called reports that Lavrov was hospitalized “fake news of the highest order”. On November 15, Lavrov stayed away from a hall where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an online address to G20 summit participants.
Toh Han Shih is chief analyst of Headland Intelligence, a Hong Kong risk consultancy.