After Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) spoke for more than three hours on Monday with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit, China’s readout of the meeting indicates the country’s approach to US ties is shifting.
The leaders set a more positive tone for relations, which reached a low point after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August. Xi and Biden greeted each other with a handshake and agreed to resume bilateral talks on climate change, economic stability, and health and food security.
The White House said in a statement afterward that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would travel to China to follow up.
Plenty of disagreements remain, over topics including Taiwan, technology and human rights.
However, tensions have eased, with China’s statement offering the US more incentives to work together and issuing fewer warnings than other recent communications. Here are five key shifts in China’s language:
Beijing described the in-person meeting as “candid, in-depth and constructive” — with the last term usually used by China to suggest a positive development. When Xi and Biden spoke by telephone in July, just days before Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, that description was missing from the statement Beijing issued afterward.
The July statement was also just 911 characters long, while the more than 2,800-character readout following Monday’s meeting was more explanatory.
In another sign that tensions have been dialed back, Xi told Biden that the US must abide by the “one China policy” rather than Beijing’s “one China principle,” as he did in July. That small tweak in language is an important recognition that the two sides interpret Taiwan’s status differently.
In July, Xi’s language about Taiwan was aggressive. The Chinese leader warned Biden that “whoever plays with fire will perish by it” and spoke of the “firm will” of China’s 1.4 billion people to defend the country’s territorial integrity.
That heated language was notably absent from Monday’s statement, although it is clear that the two nations’ differences over Taiwan are far from resolved: The statement described the nation’s fate as “the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations.”
SUCCEEDING IN PARALLEL
The statement used conciliatory language to state that US-China relations need not be a “strategic competition.”
In July, Xi bluntly accused the US of “misperceiving” China as a primary rival that posed a long-term challenge. On Monday, the emphasis fell on the benefits a rising China could bring to the US.
“The world is big enough for the two countries to develop themselves and prosper together,” Xi said, adding that “under the current circumstances, China and the United States share more, not less, common interests.”
In a similar vein, Xi in July warned the US against cutting China out of supply chains.
“Attempts at decoupling or severing supply chains in defiance of underlying laws would not help boost the US economy,” he said.
However, on Monday, Xi focused on mutual benefits, saying: “The two economies are deeply integrated, and both face new tasks in development. It is in our mutual interest to benefit from each other’s development.”
That said, he also told Biden that “suppression and containment will only strengthen the will and boost the morale of the Chinese people.”
Xi added that tackling climate change and other regional and global issues are both sides’ interest.
WHAT WAS NOT SAID
While the Chinese readout mentioned Russia’s war in Ukraine, it did not refer to the two leaders’ agreement that “a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won,” or their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons there.
Instead, it repeated Xi’s usual comments that China always stands on the side of peace and is willing to facilitate dialogues.
There was no mention of North Korea.
Xinjiang or Hong Kong were also absent from the statement, although the White House noted Biden had raised concerns about human rights in both locations.
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