Joe Biden’s 90-minute phone call to Xi Jinping appeared to solve one problem.
The United States president and the general secretary of the Communist Party of China both agreed superpower “competition should not veer into conflict.”
Apart from that and vague climate change promises, it was a triumph of inertia.
For Xi, it created the sort of mood music that will play well at home and with Beijing’s friends abroad.
“Whether China and the US can properly handle their relations … is critical for the future and destiny of the world,” he said as reported by the state-run networks CCTV and CGTN.
“Getting the relationship right is not an option, but something we must do,” Xi added on Thursday without going into concrete details.
Hours earlier, there was a muted fanfare after the State Council Information Office rolled out China’s Human Rights Action Plan (2021-2025).
There was also a red carpet for “Xi’s Thought,” the president’s political and social doctrine for the masses. Indeed, it was at the core of the project.
- “Following the guidance of Xi’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
- “Staying committed to a people-centered philosophy of development.”
- “Ensuring a happy life for the people.”
- “Promoting development and prosperity as the ultimate goal.”
- “Developing a people’s democracy.”
- “Safeguarding social fairness and justice.”
Reality check: There was no mention of freedom of speech or an independent judiciary and media. The crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the internment camps in Xinjiang were also missing from a plan short on detail and long on rhetoric. Later, those issues were raised by President Biden.
Delve deeper: The overriding theme in “Xi’s Thought” is loyalty and obedience to the Communist Party. Needless to say, that is a complete contradiction to the basic human right to choose an elected government.
Great divide: Biden’s long-distance chat with Xi was “less focused on any of those hot-button issues,” the Associated Press reported from Washington. Instead, it “centered on discussing the way ahead for the US-China relationship after it got off to a decidedly rocky start” when Biden entered the Oval Office.
White House statement: “The two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge.”
Human blights: “Beijing’s repression – insisting on political loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party – deepened across the country [in 2020],” Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization, reported in its annual 2021 World Report.
Alternative agenda: Li Haidong, of the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, came up with a “newspeak” understanding of human rights and democracy in a Global Times commentary entitled While sowing discord around China, the US is heading to be a ‘failing state’.
When bad is good: “If the model imposed by the West is really suitable for these countries [such as North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan], then local people would have accepted it. But in fact, most people and political parties in these countries have rejected the US model,” he told the state-controlled newspaper, published by the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.
Fact check: North Korea has been an authoritarian state since 1948 under the Kim dynasty. Myanmar has been run by a military junta since February after the army swept away the democratically-elected government, triggering massive protests. Afghanistan is back in the grip of the hated Taliban, an Islamist-political movement.
China Factor comment: Xi and the Party will continue to spout utter nonsense about freedom of speech and democracy in China. At the same time, it will beef up the Great Firewall that rings cyberspace and silence dissenting voices.