Biden's call with Xi Jinping produces predictably negligible results

AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Jay L. Clendenin, Pool

The President devoted three hours of his busy (?) schedule yesterday to a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Considering the current state of affairs between our two nations, there was obviously a lot to talk about. Given China’s involvement in the origins of the novel coronavirus, their antagonistic relationship with Taiwan, their moves to expand their influence in Afghanistan, and their ability to blow up satellites, getting any sort of accommodations out of Xi would be a major coup. Unfortunately, judging by the announcements that followed the call, there wasn’t much progress to report on any of those fronts. Several of those topics were brought up, to be sure, but China appears to be on course to keep doing precisely what they’ve been doing for the past several years. The best they managed to accomplish was an agreement not to allow “competition to veer into conflict.” The fact that Chinese state media hailed the call as “a success” probably tells you all you need to know. (Associated Press)

China on Tuesday hailed a virtual meeting between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden, saying they had a candid and constructive exchange that sent a strong signal to the world.

The positive description of the meeting came in sharp contrast to heated exchanges between the two nations earlier this year. The talks appeared to mark what both sides hoped would be a turnaround in relations, though major differences remain.

“If China-U.S. relations cannot return to the past, they should face the future,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

Biden asserted his determination not to allow the relationship to result in conflict, “either intentional or unintentional.” He also said the United States needed to remain engaged in “simple, straightforward competition” with China. I suppose that sounds good on paper, but since we’re not currently at war with China, that doesn’t sound like much of a change from the status quo.

For his part, Xi is quoted as saying to his “old friend” during his opening remarks that “China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation.”

The subject of Taiwan did come up, but Xi clearly wasn’t in any mood to compromise. He blamed all of the current tension in the Taiwan Strait on Taiwan’s government. He complained that they were “seeking to attain independence” by using the United States as a shield. “This is extremely dangerous, it’s playing with fire, and they that play with fire will burn themselves,” Xi said.

That sounds pretty much like a direct threat, doesn’t it? But Biden’s response wasn’t exactly full of fire and brimstone. All he did was commit to maintaining the “One China” policy that we’ve had in place for decades while saying that he opposes any unilateral efforts to change the status quo.

Reports of the call don’t indicate any mention of the origins of the coronavirus. Nor did we hear of the two men discussing actions China might take to alleviate the global supply chain crisis. The genocide against the Uyghurs was apparently raised in a very gentle fashion, but Xi wasn’t making any promises to back down in that area. In fact, the only other thing that definitely came up was more talk about climate change and reducing carbon emissions. That’s something that China has repeatedly promised to do something about, but they always fail to deliver on their promises.

I’m not going to knock Joe Biden for taking part in the call. That’s something that world leaders are expected to do from time to time. But what are we really expecting out of China at this point? They’ve become increasingly belligerent and aggressive in recent years and it doesn’t sound as if the Chinese Communist Party has any intention of steering toward a different course of action. All in all, our relationship with China is still in the tank and there doesn’t appear to be much that we can do about it.