There were smiles before the talks at the secluded Filoli country estate on the outskirts of San Francisco and a leisurely walk amid the manicured lawns. Then reality kicked in.
Asked at a media briefing whether Chinese Paramount Leader Xi Jinping was still a “dictator” after their tête-à-tête, US President Joe Biden responded in his usual candor.
“Well, look, he is. I mean he’s a dictator in the sense that here’s a guy who runs a communist country based on a form of government totally different than ours,” he replied after making similar statements in the past.
His remarks were probably the highlight of Wednesday’s lengthy discussions with Xi, who has never been elected by the people of China. Neither has the ruling Communist Party, which has been in power since 1949.
Multi-party, democratic elections simply do exist in the country, which is tightly controlled by the CCP at all levels of society.
In response, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the statement without mentioning Biden by name.
“This kind of speech is extremely wrong and is irresponsible political manipulation. China firmly opposes it,” spokesperson Mao Ning said at a routine media conference today, adding:
I need to point out that there are always some people with ulterior motives attempting to sow discord and wreck China-US relations, and this too will not succeed.
Still, the outcome of the talks was mostly predictable and was flagged leading up to the meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders conference or APEC summit.
In their first face-to-face chat since the G20 gathering in Bali last year, Biden and Xi agreed on a presidential hotline and the resumption of military-to-military communications.
Curbing fentanyl production in China, which has triggered an opioid epidemic in the United States, was another key takeaway.
But other major issues remained on hold, such as human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as China’s bullying of democratic Taiwan and “coercion” in the South China Sea.
“I raised areas where the United States has concerns about [China’s] actions, including human rights, and coercive activities in the South China Sea. No agreement on that,” Biden told a media briefing.
The Taiwan Question is one of Xi’s redlines and he has vowed to unify the island with the mainland by force if necessary.
During the past year, China has conducted massive naval drills to bring Taipei into line after a series of high-profile visits from American politicians, including the former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In 2021, The Economist labeled Taiwan “the most dangerous place on Earth” amid invasion threats from the Xi regime. Nothing really has changed.
“The suggestion that a resolution needs to be found in the near term is a worrisome sign, even if [Xi] emphasized that there are no plans for military action against Taiwan in the coming years,” Bonnie Glaser, a Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said in a report by Reuters news agency.
As for Xi, he sugar-coated his speech when trying to woo business leaders at a glitzy gala in San Francisco on Wednesday evening following the Biden bash.
The world’s second-largest economy is mired in local government debt, a collapse of the crucial property sector, and sky-high unemployment among the young. A foreign investment crisis has only added to the gloom, as well as American high-tech export sanctions.
“Whatever stage of development it may reach, China will never pursue hegemony or expansion, and will never impose its will on others,” Xi said in a speech, adding:
China does not seek spheres of influence, and will not fight a Cold War or a hot war with anyone.
“No matter how the global landscape evolves, the historical trend of peaceful coexistence between China and the United States will not change,” he added.
It was a masterclass in what the Xinhua News Agency calls “Xiplomacy.” But it had nothing to do with the real world of geopolitics and the Communist Party’s three “Cs” of coercion, confrontation, and conflict.