November 26, 2022

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 at the summit’s key meeting, which saw Xi also meet with leaders from Australia, Holland and France.

With the Biden administration forging alliances against China during the worst state of Sino-US relations since the 1970s, US and allied leaders struck 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 in the evening. “So we covered a lot of territory.”

“I’m not suggesting this is Kumbaya, you know,” Biden said. “Everyone is leaving with all consent. But I don’t think there’s any need to worry about a new Cold War. We will compete vigorously. But I’m not looking for a conflict, I want to run this competition responsibly.”

He also said, “It was clear to me that China and the United States should be able to work together where we can to solve global challenges where each nation must make its contribution. We discussed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and reaffirmed our shared belief in the threat where the use of nuclear weapons is totally unacceptable.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China at an unspecified date to keep lines of communication open between the two superpowers, Biden said. He tried to enlist Xi’s help regarding North Korea. He told reporters, “It’s hard to say I’m sure China can control North Korea, number one. Second, I have made it clear to President Xi Jinping that I believe they have an obligation to try to convince North Korea that they should not engage in long-range nuclear testing.”

Regarding the war between Ukraine and Russia, Xi stressed the need for dialogue and a peaceful solution to the crisis, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Bali on Nov. 14. Xi stressed that the North Korea issue should be approached in a balanced manner where legitimate concerns of North Korea are addressed, Wang said.

“And I don’t think there’s any imminent attempt by China to invade Taiwan,” Biden predicted. That said, he thinks it’s unlikely China will go to war with the US over Taiwan, at least for now.

But Xi did not rule out war. According to minutes of the Chinese Foreign Ministry meeting, Xi told Biden, “We hope and work for cross-strait peace and stability, but cross-strait peace and stability and ‘Taiwan independence.’ are as unforgiving as water and fire. We hope that the US side will walk the talk and stick to 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 of using Taiwan as a tool to seek competitive advantages with or contain China. We hope that the US side will actually live up to this promise.”

Xi’s words showed his suspicion that US actions fell short of its acknowledgment that the breakaway island belongs to China, particularly after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit in August.

The US also has suspicions about China. At an ASEAN summit in Cambodia last week, Biden is said to have raised concerns with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen about possible Chinese military activity at the Ream naval base in the Southeast Asian country, a Bloomberg reporter said at a news conference by China’s foreign ministry November 14 in Beijing. A ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, replied that China was expanding the naval base, which is a “normal activity” aimed at strengthening Cambodia’s navy without targeting third parties.

The Xi-Biden meeting is of great significance and will have important and far-reaching implications for future Sino-US relations, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang told reporters Nov. 14.

It is positive that Xi and Biden have restored communication between the two key global players, said Enodo Economics, a macroeconomic and political forecasting firm in London.

“But it does not change the fundamental direction in which both the US and China are determined to fight for dominance,” the firm’s report said. “Of course, more communication between the US and China would benefit relations.

But the underlying trends of Xi’s China are not easily shaken off. Xi’s desire for top-down scrutiny and recovery of Taiwan will remain the main factor influencing market performance as long as he is in office.”

Xi meets leaders of France, Australia, Holland

During their Nov. 15 meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron asked Xi to “pass messages to President Putin to avoid escalation and return to the negotiating table in earnest,” Macron told reporters after talks that lasted nearly an hour.

“President Xi pointed out that China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is clear and consistent; China stands for ceasefire, end of conflict and peace talks. The international community should create the conditions for this. China will continue to work to play a constructive role,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in an article.

France is pursuing an independent foreign policy and rejects a bloc confrontation, the Chinese Foreign Ministry article quoted Macron as saying. The French president told Xi that France welcomes Chinese firms to his country, the article added.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted on his half-hour meeting with Xi on November 15: “It was good to talk about 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 stand up for our national interest.”

At a press conference, Albanese revealed that he had asked Xi to exert his influence on Russia, particularly in relation to Russia’s threats to use tactical nuclear weapons.

Relations between China and Australia have been rocky in recent years, marred by Chinese sanctions on Australian goods as well as Australia’s 2018 ban on Chinese tech company Huawei and Australia’s passage of a foreign interference law in 2018 that Beijing views as hostile actions.

Xi also met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Nov. 15, with the Chinese leader expressing his opposition to decoupling between China and other nations, China’s foreign ministry said.

in a (n interview British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Sky News on November 15 that he was “hopeful” of meeting Xi at the summit. Sunak said that to solve global challenges such as climate change and the war between Russia and Ukraine, it is important to engage China. However, Sunak said China posed 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 Sergey Lavrov is in good health after two medical checks at a Bali hospital, an Indonesian Health Ministry official said on November 14. On November 15, Lavrov stayed away from a room where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was delivering an online address to the participants of the G20 summit held.

Toh Han Shih is a senior analyst at Headland Intelligence, a risk consultancy based in Hong Kong.