The Biden-Xi meeting on APEC sidelines yields 'real progress' in bilateral relations
Even as Israel’s aggression continues in Gaza, US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping made good use of the opportunity provided by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the US. A pleasant surprise, their bilateral had many positive takeaways and a lot of things were agreed upon. The two countries had drifted apart after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year which was criticised by China as "unnecessary provocation" and "interference". Though it is not confirmed that the latest meeting discussed the West Asia crisis, the Ukraine war and Palestine conflict are two issues that cannot be brushed under the carpet. To put it in perspective, the US and China have diametrically opposing views on these conflicts but the latest meeting at least opens up a channel for dialogue. Biden and Xi engaged in over four hours of talks, marking their first face-to-face meeting in a year. The leaders aimed to address longstanding issues and set the tone for stabilising strained bilateral ties. The meeting coincided with the annual APEC summit, emphasising the global significance of the discussions. One of the key outcomes was the commitment to restore military-to-military communications between the nations. The leaders agreed to reopen the channels severed following Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in August 2022. This signals a willingness to enhance dialogue and understanding in the military domain.
The discussions also delved into the sensitive issue of Taiwan, with Biden expressing concerns over China's substantial military buildup around the island. He urged China to respect Taiwan's electoral process, particularly as the island is gearing up for presidential and parliamentary elections in January. Xi, on the other hand, emphasised Taiwan's integral connection to China and called for an end to arms sales to the self-ruled island. Yet another headway was made in the agreement to reopen military contacts which extends beyond high-level dialogues. It opens the door for engagements even at middle levels, allowing for interactions between military officials, including the US Pacific forces commander and his Chinese counterpart; the move is expected to facilitate operational engagements. In a joint effort to combat the opioid crisis, Biden and Xi reached an agreement to cooperate on tackling the source of fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic opioid responsible for numerous drug overdoses in the US. China will target specific companies producing the chemicals used to manufacture the drug, reinforcing international collaboration on a critical public health issue. Biden raised concerns about the status of US citizens believed to be wrongly detained in China, emphasising the importance of human rights. The leaders engaged in a frank exchange on these issues, and this could herald a new era of openness.