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Biden and Xi try to de-escalate the tension in the G20 summit in Bali

The presidents of the US, Joe Biden, and China, Xi Jinping, held a meeting in Los Angeles last February. / AFP

With very low expectations, the presidents of the US and China meet tomorrow facing each other over Taiwan, the war in Ukraine and their ideological differences

PAUL M. DÍEZ Special envoy to Bali

If there is a place capable of calming troubled international waters, it is undoubtedly Bali. This paradisiacal Indonesian island, with white sand beaches with coconut palms and turquoise waters, will host tomorrow Tuesday and Wednesday what is possibly the most tense summit of the G20. A forum that sits at the same table the most industrial and wealthy nations of the West, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany or France, and the main developing powers, such as China, India, Brazil or Russia.

With the most diverse opinions and political systems, important issues such as the war in Ukraine, inflation, the looming energy crisis, the threat of recession, global warming and the growing global polarization around the new ‘Cold War’ between the US and China. To reduce the tension between the two countries, which have launched into open economic and political hostility, their presidents, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, take advantage of their presence in Bali to meet tomorrow before the G20 summit begins.

Although they have spoken several times by videoconference, this is their first personal meeting since Biden arrived at the White House in January 2020 and it comes three weeks after Xi perpetuated himself in power at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party. While he comes out as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, as he demonstrated by kicking former President Hu Jintao out of Congress, Biden is bolstered by better-than-expected Democratic results in the recent midterm elections. Apart from this similarity, the differences between the two are so many, and so great, that no agreement is expected and it is even possible that they will not even sign a joint declaration. But just the fact that they sit down to talk face to face is already an advance and, at a minimum, it will help them to agree on what confronts them.

The main fronts open between the US and China at the G20 summit

Or, as Biden said last week, “to mark what our red lines are.” Before leaving for the climate summits in Egypt and the Southeast Asian (Asean) countries in Cambodia, he explained that what he wants to do when he talks to Xi is to “understand what he thinks is in the critical national interest of China and tell him what that I believe is in the critical national interest of the United States, and determine whether or not they conflict. And, if they do, how to fix it and make it work.

Their biggest clash is Taiwan, the ‘de facto’ independent and democratic island claimed by Beijing that Xi Jinping has vowed to reunify, by force if necessary. For China, it means such an important issue that last summer it carried out its biggest military maneuvers in the Strait of Formosa in retaliation for the visit of the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Faced with threats of a hypothetical Chinese invasion, Biden has already angered Beijing several times by promising that the White House would help Taiwan militarily. A statement that his advisers have been forced to qualify by ensuring that Washington has not changed its “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan or its recognition of the “one China” policy, but strongly insisting on the current ‘status quo’ and opposing Let Beijing take the island.

military tension

Added to this military tension is the recent National Security Strategy published by the US, which identifies China as its “greatest geopolitical challenge” and a more dangerous threat than Russia despite the war in Ukraine. To contain Beijing’s military and technological rise, Biden has also prohibited the sale of the most advanced microchips, which are precisely manufactured in Taiwan, to Chinese companies. This veto, which could delay China’s technological development for up to ten years, infuriates the regime, as its foreign spokesman, Zhao Lijian, made clear in one of his last press conferences: “The US has to stop politicizing, ideologising and weaponize trade issues and take real action to defend the market economy and the international trading system.”

But, as Chris Hung, vice president of the Taiwanese consultancy MIC (Market Intelligence and Consulting Institute) explains to this newspaper, “the new US government regulation is trying to slow down the development of the Chinese semiconductor industry for between five and ten years . As such bans apply to very advanced technology or technology with military applications, the impact on other countries will be quite limited.’

Given the discomfort that this veto has caused in China, which has suffered a “very precise and forceful” blow against its plan to achieve its technological independence, according to Hung, the US president is confident that he will not have to make “fundamental concessions” in his meeting with Xi. At the same time, he will try to give security guarantees to Taiwan, something Chinese foreign spokesman Zhao Lijian strongly opposes.

Added to all this military tension are their disagreements over the war in Ukraine and Xi Jinping’s implicit support for Putin, with whom he signed an “unlimited friendship” just before the Russian invasion, which Chinese propaganda refuses to define as such. . Biden will try to wring a commitment from Xi to oppose Moscow’s use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz managed to do earlier this month on his criticized whirlwind visit to Beijing.

It will be more difficult for Biden if Xi condemns the constant provocations of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, who is feared to order a nuclear test again after spending the year firing all kinds of missiles.

low expectations

Although the expectations of agreements are very low, it is expected that the meeting will at least serve to resume talks between the two countries on global warming, military communication and the trade war. All these collaborations, vital for the development of the economy and the future of humanity, were interrupted after Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan and analysts trust that the Bali summit will help unlock some of them.

In 2019, when the G20 was held in the Japanese city of Osaka, the occasion was used to meet the former US president, Donald Trump, and Xi Jinping, who signed a truce to the trade war. Although Biden has not lifted the tariffs imposed by Trump, he will try to take advantage of his long relationship with Xi to bring positions closer and build bridges. The two have known each other personally since 2011, when they were both vice presidents and made several mutual visits, but times have changed as much as they have.

In fact, Biden has even had to clarify in a press conference that he is not an “old friend” of Xi, but that the two had a “purely work” relationship. Curiously, the now president of the United States was, during his time as a senator at the end of the 1990s, one of the biggest defenders of the inclusion of China in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which has brought so many problems to certain western industries.

For his part, the Chinese president has lost the smile he wore on his trips to the US, such as the one he made in 2012 returning the visit to Biden, and has become the most authoritarian leader since Mao Zedong. Traumatized by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which he wants to avoid at all costs in China, Xi Jinping considers himself the savior of communism and champions his totalitarian model against Western democracies. Returning to the international scene after almost three years without leaving China due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Xi meets with Biden to try to improve their relations in Bali. If there is any place conducive to appease the heated global spirits, without a doubt it is this beautiful and peaceful island of Indonesia.

An island paradise with the right atmosphere to reach agreements

Smiles on every face, which also shine without blushing because few people wear a mask against the covid, dream beaches, luxury tourist complexes, tropical heat and beautiful Balinese welcome dances. As Indonesian diplomatic sources privately acknowledge, the island of Bali brings all its charms to create the right atmosphere for G20 members to reach important global agreements.

In addition to industrialized countries such as the US, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, South Korea, Australia and Spain as permanent guests, developing powers such as China, India, Russia, Brazil are part of this forum. , Mexico, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, plus the European Union.

Held in the beautiful area of ​​Nusa Dua, where the best hotels in Bali are concentrated, the G20 is held under tight security measures to prevent jihadist attacks like the one that killed 202 people in Kuta bars twenty years ago.

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