Chinese and U.S. Presidents meet in San Francisco

Chinese and U.S. Presidents meet in San Francisco

Chinese President Xi Jinping met his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco in an effort to rebalance the bilateral relationship or at least prevent a further deterioration. Expectations were low that any tangible results would be made, but both parties reported that the summit was successful. While the two sides have a shared interest in stability, the U.S. came away with two items atop its wish list, analysts said. One was an agreement to enhance communication between the Pentagon and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), reducing the chance of an accidental mishap. Reconnecting so-called military-to-military channels severed after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August last year was a high priority for Washington. Beijing also pledged a willingness to crack down on the export of ingredients used to make fentanyl. The drug kills some 70,000 Americans annually. The U.S. side lifted sanctions on the Institute of Forensic Science under China’s Ministry of Public Security. The U.S. and China also reached an agreement on artificial intelligence (AI). “Xi Jinping of China and I had a brief discussion about the impact of artificial intelligence and how we have to work on it,” Biden told APEC leaders.

The two Presidents have agreed that negotiations will start on renewing a decades-old science and technology agreement (STA). The decision was announced by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after the Xi-Biden talks. The STA was the first major agreement to be signed by the U.S. and China when they established diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. It survived 44 years of diplomatic ups and downs and was renewed every five years – until this year. Right before it was due to expire in August, Washington extended the pact for six months so the two sides could “renegotiate the deal” and address concerns over issues such as research reciprocity and the military use of high technologies. “Today, our common interests have increased, not decreased,” Xi told Biden. They also agreed to commit to working toward a significant increase in scheduled passenger flights between the two countries early next year, and expand educational, student, youth, cultural, sports and business exchanges.

President Xi declined an invitation to speak publicly to APEC’s 21 member economies, focussing instead on a smaller dinner with business leaders who paid between USD2,000 and USD40,000 per seat. “The more difficulties there are, the greater the need for us to forge a closer bond between our peoples and open our hearts to each other,” Xi said at the dinner. “Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed, and one country’s success is an opportunity for the other,” Xi added.

In lower-level meetings prior to the Xi-Biden summit, cooperation has improved in matters as varied as visas and tourism, nuclear weapons talks, global warming and people-to-people exchanges. China announced the largest purchase of American soybeans in months and might also place orders for new Boeing jets for the first time in more than four years, although no deal has materialized yet.

Moreover, rhetoric critical of the U.S. has been muted in Chinese state-controlled media. “Once opened, the door of China-U.S. relations cannot be shut again,” said Mao Ning, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman. Such language echoed Xi’s remarks in San Francisco, when he stated: “Once started, the cause of China-U.S. friendship cannot be derailed halfway. No matter how the global landscape evolves, the historical trend of peaceful coexistence between China and the United States will not change.”

President Xi summed up five pillars of China-U.S. relations. The first pillar is to jointly develop a right perception of each other. Beijing is consistently committed to a stable, healthy and sustainable relationship with Washington. Meanwhile, China has interests that must be safeguarded, principles that must be upheld and red lines that must not be crossed. Second, both nations should effectively manage their disagreements and look for ways to build bridges to meet each other halfway. Beijing and Washington should appreciate each other’s principles and red lines, and refrain from flip-flopping, being provocative and crossing the lines. Third, both countries should work together to advance mutually beneficial cooperation. China and the U.S. have broad common interests, including in traditional areas such as the economy, trade and agriculture, as well as in such emerging areas as climate change and AI. Both sides should make full use of restored and new mechanisms in foreign policy, economics, finance, commerce, agriculture and other fields, and carry out cooperation in areas such as countering the narcotics trade, judicial affairs, law enforcement, AI and science and technology. Fourth, both sides should jointly shoulder responsibilities as major countries, lead by example, step up coordination and cooperation on international and regional issues, and provide more public goods for the world. Fifth, build stronger people-to-people exchanges.

This overview is based on reports by the China Daily and the South China Morning Post.