Biden-Xi meeting mirrors new reality - GulfToday

Biden-Xi meeting mirrors new reality


Joe Biden and Xi Jinping during a virtual meeting.

The virtual meeting between United States President John Biden and China’s Xi Jinping on Tuesday was one between leaders of two most powerful countries in terms of the size of the economies – US is the largest and China the second largest – and each contesting the other’s military and political clout. There was not much friendliness though Xi called Biden his “old friend.”

Their respective positions were quite hard, especially on the issue of Taiwan. Xi was unequivocal in expressing his displeasure over Taiwan wanting to move towards independence under the influence of the US and he warned Biden that any attempt to change the position would be like playing with fire and those who try to do it will be burnt. That harsh and blunt talk at a diplomatic summit. Biden on his part warned that no attempt should be made to change the position of Taiwan militarily and that America would oppose it. But once past the Taiwan issue, the attitude of the two leaders was couched in diplomatic language despite differences. The White House said Biden spoke of setting up “guard-rails”, a reference to demarcating spheres of interest and influence. Xi talked of the need for greater “communication and cooperation” between the two countries.

American analysts seem to feel that China is treating America as a declining power and that the Americans are concerned about checking the rising power that is China. The two epithets, “declining power” and “rising power” explain the crux of the strained relations between the two countries. It may not be the Cold War as we have witnessed it in the relations between the United States and the then Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s because at that time the fear was that the confrontation between the two big powers could break out into a nuclear war endangering the whole world.

The prospect of a military flare-up between China and the US is less likely. Unlike the Soviet Union of that time, China does not have a military bloc of its own. The Soviet Union’s satellite states in eastern Europe implies that the war between the two powers would soon turn into a world war. China stands alone. Apart from North Korea, no country in the neighbourhood, not Japan or South Korea, not the south-east Asian countries to the south will stand up with China. But China has enough military muscle to defend itself though it may not be able to run over the region as Japan did during the Second World War.

But China as the second largest economy has a near strangle-hold over the global economy, especially that of the US. The Americans are aware of China’s enormous economic clout which surpasses its limited military capability.

China is also taking calibrated steps to spread its strategic influence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, while moving closer than before to Russia. It is also extending its strategic footprint in Africa through extensive and generous economic aid to many of the countries on that continent. In contrast, America has withdrawn from Afghanistan, has adversarial relations with Iran and Russia. It is to counter this growing Chinese sphere of influence, that America has formed the Quad with India, Japan, Australia, countries whose relations with China are ambivalent like that of America. In many ways, the US-China rivalry is a half-way house in the global balance of power, where a multi-polar world has failed to emerge fully after America enjoyed a brief period of being the lone superpower. The emergence of China as a global power to reckon with is changing the contours of the global balance of power once again.

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