It's time leaders of the US and China stopped wincing or winking away from the real issues related to sustainable development goals
China is said to be the closest to Russia in the last 70 years and was taken aback by the strength of the reaction of the West to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That has led to an unexpected isolation of China on an international level, which the latter had not anticipated. Now it is trying to mend its ties with the US in order to boost its sagging economy. The US too looks towards safeguarding the interest of its big industrial houses and mending fences. The visit of the Chinese President to the US was a step in that direction.
Was the trip of Chinese President Xi Jinping aimed at earning U.S. policy concessions? Was it aimed at easing bilateral tensions which may allow more focus on economic growth? Did it look for a chance to woo foreign investors who now increasingly shun China? Was it aimed at convincing the US to look the other way while China tries to gobble up Taiwan? Was the trip successful in any of these endeavours? As the US President refused to back down on his earlier comment of calling 'Xi' a dictator, has the visit rather soured ties even more? Well, these are some of the questions the visit has thrown at the watchers of geopolitics across the world.
The reaction of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to a comment by Joe Biden that he still considers Xi Jinping a dictator has brought to the fore answers to some of these questions. It apparently seems that the US wants to desperately improve economic ties with China because of its own compulsions, however, the political divide is too big to bridge. On one hand, the US has over a period of time scaled down from its earlier positions of 'Economic Decoupling' to 'Economic De-Risking' and now to 'Constructive Engagement', but the ideological and political divide with the Communist state of China persists. The stakes at the meeting were high, as the two global powers did not see eye to eye on various issues. The Chinese severed military-to-military contacts with the United States after the then-House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022. The contact has been restored now to avoid miscalculations between the two militaries.
Relations between the two countries have been frosty for some time now with China sending a spy balloon to hover over the US skies and Biden ordering it to be shot down. Many top Biden administration officials have since visited Beijing and met with their counterparts to rebuild communication and trust which culminated in this visit by Xi Jinping to the US. However, the 'Dictator' remark by the US President has put things back to square one and that was clearly visible in the anguish of Blinken's reaction. China and the US have taken positions that are outrightly opposite of each other on various issues of strategic and military importance at various international forums including the United Nations.
War in the Middle East has furthered the divide between the two countries, as China continues to have strong ties with Iran, whereas the US continues to bomb Iran-backed forces. Convergence of Chinese and Russian ideology which is totally divergent to the NATO strategy is likely to further the gulf between the two countries in the days to come. The visit therefore has not effectively addressed any of these issues.
India has been out of this powerplay to some extent and rightfully so, however as China continues to show greater presence in the Indo-Pacific, the significance of strengthening military assets can not be downplayed. For one thing, China of late has become restless and reactive which was rarely the case about a decade or two ago. Make no mistake, China is making moves that are typical of a country that has an authoritative ruler, irrespective of what Joe Biden may have said or not said. India needs to deliver on its commitment of not only being ‘Atmanirbhar,’ but also its endeavour to emerge as a global hub of manufacturing. Manufacturing in the defence sector would be the key in the years to come to provide stability to the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific.
There are many positive things that have emerged from Xi's visit to the US. One of them is in the direction of environmental conservation. The US and China, two of the world's biggest polluters, agreed to pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030 through wind, solar and other renewables. China and the US would keep engaging at various forums and keep coming to stop-gap arrangements to suit each other's interest, but the bottom line remains that China is not a democracy and the will of the people of China is not truly represented in its day-to-day functioning. China is ready to negotiate to make its economy recover and as soon as it recovers, the negotiations may become even more difficult. The bulk of the focus of Chinese negotiations as a run-up to the Xi-Biden meeting revolved around how China is the safest place for US companies to come and invest.
It's time leaders of the US and China stopped wincing or winking away from the real issues related to sustainable development goals. It's also time when the larger good of humanity must take centre stage and a workable mechanism to stop wars and unrest is worked out.
The US and China should look at how the United Nations must become more relevant in conflict situations rather than working out how and what they can veto to suit each other's agenda. They should also keep in mind that there should be enough space for everyone to grow and prosper in this world not just the US and China. Maybe next time the two leaders should consider discussing how to stop unrest and terrorism of all kinds in the world rather than how much should corporate leaders pay to meet the head of a country.
(The writer is expert on geopolitics and international Affairs. The views expressed are personal)