News from San Francisco

 The Biden-Xi Summit and the Need of Stabilizing the Sino-American Relationship

The Filoli Estate, on the outskirts of San Francisco (California), provided the setting for the long-awaited summit between US President Joe Biden and the People’s Republic of China leader Xi Jinping.

The meeting of the two most powerful men in the world sought to “stabilize” the deteriorated Sino-American relations. Those that drag years of tensions that led to their lowest point since the normalization of their diplomatic relationship in 1979.

The importance of the meeting -held on the sidelines of the APEC summit- takes on significance derived from the context in which it occurs. Which is marked by the decline of world politics and the proliferation of conflicts in diverse geographies such as Ukraine, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

It is in this context that the expectation for the announcement of the restart of military communications interrupted after the controversial visit of then Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in the summer of 2022 must be understood.

Likewise, they agreed to establish a joint working group to combat drug trafficking. At the same time, according to the Chinese state agency Xinhua, they agreed to establish a dialogue mechanism on Artificial Intelligence and increase commercial flights´ frequencies.  For his part, Biden stated that he had stressed to Xi the importance of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.

As it is well known, in recent months, relations between Washington and Beijing had seriously deteriorated despite the attempt of a “thaw” during the November 2022 summit of both leaders on the margins of the G20 in Bali (Indonesia), the episode of the detection of a Chinese balloon over North American territory poisoned the relationship again in early 2023.

The US and China maintain seemingly irreconcilable differences on crucial issues such as Taiwan, Human Rights, North Korean provocations, trade wars and the Russian-Ukraine conflict. However, the Communist Party´s mouthpiece People’s Daily called the summit “positive, comprehensive and constructive” and expressed hopes that “San Francisco will become a new starting point.”

Those modest expectations might be all that can be expected in observation of the reality of the facts. Since we live in a world marked by the very bad relationship that Great Powers have been developing in the last decade, to an extreme that has led the US to maintain a simultaneous confrontation with China and Russia.

While we observe how traditionally enemy powers -such as China, Russia, Iran and Turkey- seem to abandon their old disputes in the face of a community of interests derived from their anti-Western positions. With the disadvantage that this means for those of us who believe in the virtues of the free world.

But the events unfold, in turn, at a time in which, as a result of formidable technological advances, international relations have become truly global for the first time. At the same time, the center of events seems to turn inexorably towards the Indo-Pacific, a scenario in which the strategic interests of both the US and China will probably confront each other.

While the West seems to face, for the first time in the last five centuries, the elevation of a non-Western competitor to the front line of global leadership. As a consequence of the extraordinary Chinese growth, completed after four decades of opening and capitalist reforms rising to the economic superpower category.

A reality that coincides with the evident closing of the “unipolar” period that followed the end of the Cold War and that seemed to predict the unlimited extension of an American leadership based on the promotion of democracy and open economies.

Assumptions that seemed to be only partially confirmed over the last three decades, due to the emergence of competitors that shape a changing global order. And in which the privileged but not exclusive role of “primus inter pares” seems to be reserved to the US, as none other than Henry Kissinger masterfully anticipated in “Diplomacy” (1994). When he recognized that while exercising that role, the US would not cease to be a nation like others.

Then, in the midst of the effervescence of American hegemony, Kissinger explained that his country’s leaders should not observe that reality as a humiliation or as a symptom of its national decline, given that throughout almost all of history, the US was a nation among others and not the predominant superpower.

Perhaps those lessons will make it possible to avoid, as far as possible, the spread of primitive feelings that blame the West for an endless series of humiliations that began with the Opium Wars.  Those instincts that can promote the adoption of a revisionist policy like the one proposed by Mao in the 1950s. Synthesized in his premonition that two winds were blowing in the world. While one came from the West and the other from the East. Attributing to the latter the strongest blowing.

Suddenly, for a moment, the news from San Francisco seemed to push those convictions aside. Because apparently motivated by the observation of a realistic criterion, the leaders showed themselves bowing to the virtue of prudence.

While the White House head recalled that the US and China have the obligation to ensure that their competition does not turn into conflict. At the same time, the head of the CCP Politburo assured that the Earth was large enough to accommodate the ambitions of both powers.

Mariano A. Caucino is a foreign policy analyst. Former Argentine Ambassador to the State of Israel and Costa Rica. Member of the InterAmerican Institute for Democracy (Miami, FL).

About the Author
Mariano Caucino was Argentine ambassador to Israel (2018-2019) and to Costa Rica (2016-2017).