Xi-Biden talk: Assurances, clearer line on Taiwan, a new framework
Exclusive interviews with Chinese experts on their key takeaways
On the heels of the Xi-Biden talks, Beijing Channel reached out to multiple authoritative U.S. hands in China to get their takes.
The experts expressed unanimous optimism regarding the outcome of the talks, saying readouts from both sides offered sufficient evidence that both leaders reached a broad consensus that expanded beyond previous talks over the phone or video.
Key points made by experts:
▪ Both sides were giving each other more strategic assurances, which bode well for the stability of the bilateral relationships.
▪ Both sides suggested likely talks on setting an overarching framework for bilateral relationships.
▪ Clearer red line is drawn on the Taiwan question.
▲ 达巍 清华大学战略与安全研究中心主任
DA Wei, Director, CISS
This is the first face-to-face meeting between the top leaders of China and the United States in three years and the first since Biden took office.
Both leaders know each other very well. Biden has often said he knew President Xi well, but unfortunately, this personal touch could not work its magic in the past few years. The fact that they finally met this time is one of the strongest positive signals. This meeting still injected some stability into a relatively difficult Sino-US relationship. Not so much an improvement but a stabilization.
I look forward to both sides talking regularly next year on specific matters referred to in the readouts and yielding concrete results. The most important thing is to get working-level officials on both sides to talk regularly. As long as we talk regularly, there is always the possibility of some achievements.
Yet China and the United States have not conducted many exchanges in the past two years, which explains the lack of achievements. Therefore, the greatest expectation is to restore such exchange with considerable frequency.
In addition, above the working level talks, both sides mentioned developing a strategic framework that can govern bilateral relationships. If our two sides can reach a consensus on some principles, which may guide the next several years, at least the next two years, it will transcend day-to-day issues. With the international environment and the Sino-U.S. relationship changing rapidly, both sides must reach an understanding of the most fundamental issues.
Another particularly important thing is that China and the United States have given each other strategic assurances in this meeting. On the part of Washington, Biden expanded on the original “Five-noes” statement, which can be understood as the United States trying to reassure China further.
The previous Five Noes Statement: the U.S. does not seek a new Cold War with China; it does not aim to change China's system; the revitalization of its alliances is not targeted at China; the U.S. does not support "Taiwan independence"; and it has no intention to seek a conflict with China.
Biden’s pledge during Tuesday’s talks: The United States does not seek a new Cold War, does not seek to revitalize alliances against China, does not support "Taiwan independence," does not support "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan," and has no intention to have a conflict with China, he said, adding that the U.S. side has no intention to seek "de-coupling" from China, to halt China's economic development, or to contain China.
President Xi also said that China has “three Noes”, which indicates that China and the United States are trying to reassure each other. While these are not new positions, it would be beneficial for both sides to reaffirm or send such signals of stability when the Sino-U.S. relationship is relatively poor.
China’s “Three Noes": China does not seek to change the existing international order or interfere in the internal affairs of the United States and has no intention to challenge or displace the United States.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also expressed a clearer position on the Taiwan question. According to a press briefing. He said
If the three grave scenarios described in the Anti-Sucession Law takes place, China shall act accordingly to to law.
By the three scenarios, Wang is referring to article 8 of the ASL:
In the event that the "Taiwan independence" secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan's secession from China, or that major incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur, or that possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
This is a new statement that we have not said before. That is, if these three situations occur, we will act accordingly. Does this imply that China will not use force unless the circumstances listed in art. 8 occur? I think this is something worth looking into.
Wang has vowed a response if “ASL was violated” in his previous speeches, but it is the first time he specifically tied the Chinese response to the circumstances described in article 8.
The dialogue has covered the crisis in Ukraine and nuclear weapons. China repeated its position-when Schultz visited and in talks with Biden- on the threat of nuclear warfare in Ukraine. This is also a strategic assurance to the West. So all of these signals are good for stabilizing the Sino-U.S. relationship.
As Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan torpedoed many Sino-U.S. dialogue and cooperation mechanisms, there’s a risk of McCarthy's potential visit to Taiwan if he assumes House Speaker next year. Now it's hard to predict how China will react, but it's certain that if he were to go, it would probably cause a serious reaction.
WANG Honggang, Assistant President and Director of the Institute of American Studies, CICIR
Wang Yi mentioned the two sides have finally met each other halfway and started to explore a new strategic framework. I think this should be the biggest highlight of this meeting.
Per Wang’s press briefing, the two leaders
established a framework. Both sides are to jointly explore the establishment of guiding principles, or a strategic framework, for U.S.-China relations. President Xi Jinping said that China and the United States are such two large countries, it won’t do if there’s no major consensus on principles. With principles, there will be direction, and with direction, we can properly address differences and expand cooperation. China's proposal that China and the United States adhere to mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation is based on this consideration. President Biden has reiterated the "Five noes" and other important statements. The two heads of state agreed on the importance of establishing guiding principles for U.S.-China relations, discussed them constructively, and tasked their working teams to follow up and consult to reach an agreement as soon as possible based on the consensus reached so far.
The offline meetings are of irreplaceable importance. There have been five previous exchanges between the two leaders, all online. Experience over the past decades has shown that given the importance of China-U.S. relations, the head of state must lead the way. The meeting was face-to-face and on the sidelines of the G20 summit, an important multilateral venue where many major powers are involved.
Another point worth mentioning is the new progress in bilateral cooperation between China and the United States to respond to prominent global issues, such as public health and climate change. This should be another highlight.
There is still a wide gap between the two countries’ perceptions of China-U.S. relations. The U.S. side insists on making competition the keynote of China-U.S. relations and China-U.S. competition the main keynote of U.S. global strategy. This is a fundamental reason for the bumps in China-U.S. relations over the past few years. In contrast, China hopes its relationship with the U.S. will develop in a good direction, with mutual respect and win-win cooperation. But it takes two to tango. The misalignment between China and the U.S. is a problem that must be addressed.
So why has the problem not been solved? The U.S. side has insisted on strategic competition, a situation that China does not want to see, nor do other countries. As can be seen from the feedback from other countries, they do not want to see a China-U.S. economic and trade war and the decoupling of China and the United States. So President Xi pointed out that the current state of China-U.S. relations is not in the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples and is not what the international community expects. Xi is not expressing this position on behalf of the Chinese side but also on behalf of many other countries worldwide.
▲ 朱锋 南京大学国际关系研究院院长
ZHU Feng, Dean of the School of international relations, Nanjing University
The summit between President Xi and President Biden has multiple implications. The first is timeliness. After taking office, the Biden administration continued to target China as the biggest strategic competitor and so-called potential threat to the U.S. and made every effort to implement a policy of suppressing China in an attempt to maintain the balance of power in its favour to uphold its hegemonic position. The bilateral relations have arguably fallen to the lowest point since Nixon’s pathbreaking visit to China 50 years ago.
Meanwhile, world politics and economy are entering a new period of turbulence and changes, with countries being impacted by global issues such as the Covid pandemic, climate change, and economic recession. The Russia-Ukraine war and other geopolitical conflicts resurfaced. Meanwhile, the U.S. doubled down on its so-called strategic competition with China, bringing back great power rivalry into international politics.
Given the unstable international situation and the continuous deterioration of China-U.S. relations, the international community is very concerned and anxious about the future direction of the China-U.S. relationship because of its increasing strategic importance to today’s world peace, stability, and development. If China and the U.S. fail to manage their differences and cannot find a reasonable way to get along, it will further exacerbate the turbulent political and economic situation in the world, and the development and stability of the international community and global governance will face an unprecedented blow.
The meeting between the heads of state of China and the United States now reflects the responsibility of great powers that the world needs today and sends a positive signal.
The meeting was also constructive and forward-looking. The China-U.S. relationship is the most consequential and complex bilateral relationship in the world, with structural implications for world peace and development. The two leaders made a great effort at this meeting to explore ways that China and the U.S. would get along in the future.
Disagreements between the two countries are unlikely to alter in the short term. The key lies in managing differences, preventing the two superpowers from moving further toward confrontations and conflicts. In this meeting, the two presidents demonstrated their determination to avoid conflicts, with China reiterating that it never seeks to change the existing world order or interfere in the internal affairs of the United States and has no intention to displace the U.S. Biden's previous "five-noes" statement has also been enriched during the meeting. The two leaders also had in-depth and frank exchanges on bilateral ties and global and regional issues. Both sides agreed that the two teams would exchange views on foreign and security ties, climate, economic and trade issues, and people-to-people exchanges, all being constructive to China-U.S. relations going forward.
Against the backdrop of a prolonged Russian-Ukrainian conflict, China and the United States jointly opposed the potential use of nuclear weapons, with the consensus that the Ukraine crisis must adhere to the “nuclear redline.” This is the first time that the two leaders have issued a common position to the world on this subject, which is an important and positive outcome of this summit.
The rivalries and tensions that arise in China-U.S. relations today are structural. Based on its hegemonic mindset, positions and interests, the U.S. firmly identified China as its biggest strategic rival and so-called “potential threat.” We need to abandon the illusion that bilateral relations might ultimately be back as in the past, but we must explore new ways of getting along.
We cannot expect this summit to lead to a decisive change in China-U.S. relations, but at least it injected positive energy into the bilateral relations. If the two sides can continue to meet each other halfway, strengthen communication, dialogue and exchanges, expand areas of cooperation, and effectivly manage differences and disputes, there will be real hope that China-U.S. relations will return to a constructive track that both competitive and cooperative, and where potential conflicts can be safely managed.
JIE Dalei, Associate Professor at the School of International Studies, PKU
My impression is that the Xi-Biden summit was quite positive. The three hours meeting covered a wide range of topics, unfolding in a completely different atmosphere than the China-U.S. talks in Anchorage in early 2021. This summit is good news for China, the U.S., and the international community.
President Xi's and Biden's opening remarks overlapped in several ways, with a consensus that the China-US relationship matters to such an extent that the whole world expects an improved one from the current situation.
In its news release, China stated that its strategic intentions are open and transparent, noting that it does not seek to change the existing international order or interfere in the internal affairs of the United States and has no intention to challenge or displace the United States. These standpoints, which are not new, were explained more systematically this time.
According to the Chinese news release, Biden reiterated that a stable and prosperous China serves the interest of the United States and the world – a statement that was often heard in pre-Trump years but rarely in recent years. This is a very positive stance from the U.S. side, even though it remains to be seen whether the Biden administration is consistent in its words and deeds.
Both sides agreed to develop a guiding principle for the U.S.-China relationship. China usually put more effort into working out such principles, as in proposing to build a new model of major-country relationship. The Chinese news release said, "the U.S. agrees on establishing principles to guide U.S.-China relations, serving as an existing consensus based on which the two sides can continue to talk." Meanwhile, the U.S. readout also echoed that "the two leaders discussed the importance of developing principles,” which is also a positive signal.
As the strategic competition between the two powers deepens, some people inside and outside the U.S. government increasingly see the Taiwan question as a strategic asset for Washington to hold Beijing in check. In this perspective, the U.S. statement that " it does not seek to use the Taiwan question as a tool to contain China" was another positive signal from the summit.
In addition, the statements from both sides covered areas they can work with, such as public health, climate change, agriculture, and food security, as well as exchanges between two peoples. The Chinese side also said it would welcome U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's upcoming visit to China. For those closely following China-U.S. relations, this meeting provides them with hope in seeing where the two great powers are headed. It’s also noticeable the two leaders indeed played critical roles in great power diplomacy.
Hopefully, there will be more in-person academic exchanges between China and the U.S., not only for the benefit of the academic community but also for the U.S.-China relationship itself. People-to-people and academic exchanges are like the blood in the human body for the bilateral relationship; it needs to flow.
Face-to-face meetings are remarkedly different from virtual ones. There are findings about the personal touch's positive role in diplomacy in international relations literature. Head-of-state diplomacy is also a form of interpersonal relationship. Even though shaking hands, greetings, and walking into a meeting jointly are all symbolic gestures, they affect the chemistry between the two leaders.
This summit was beyond my expectations. Admittedly, there will be no fundamental change in the current state of U.S.-China relations. However, as expectations for the US-China relationship are lowered on all sides at the moment, any positive signals and developments will be impressive.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect that of this newsletter.
Beijing Channel interns LU Jia’nan, LIU Lin, and SUN Mengqi contributed to the translation of transcripts.