McManus: Odds in opposition to Biden, Xi stabilizing U.S.-China ties

President Biden is scheduled to fulfill with Chinese language President Xi Jinping this week on the Indonesian island of Bali, their first in-person summit since Biden arrived within the White Home.

The stakes are all the time excessive at superpower summits, and this one isn’t any exception. After months of near-collisions over Taiwan, each governments seem to need to decrease the temperature. One other good signal: Earlier this month, Xi publicly admonished his ally Vladimir Putin to cease threatening Ukraine with Russian nuclear weapons.

However different grounds for optimism are few. U.S. officers are rigorously retaining expectations low; their principal objective, one aide stated final week, is merely “to build a floor under the relationship.” Even that modest final result isn’t assured.

“The U.S. side wants to demonstrate that [the two countries] are not locked in a downward spiral,” stated Evan Medeiros, a former China advisor to President Obama. “I think both sides are going to be able to say the right things to stabilize the relationship, but none of the underlying issues are going to be solved.”

U.S.-China summits as soon as tried to deal with areas the place the 2 sides may cooperate, resembling local weather change and North Korea. However these goals of collaboration are principally a reminiscence now: As China’s financial and army energy has grown, the 2 nations have more and more seen one another as threats.

Two particularly troublesome points stand in the best way of progress.

One is acquainted — the standoff over Taiwan, the U.S.-backed island that China claims as a part of its nationwide territory. The opposite is newer: A U.S. ban on gross sales of superior know-how to Beijing has touched off a “semiconductor war.”

The USA and China have lengthy been at loggerheads over Taiwan, however over the past yr, tensions have grown sharper. China has escalated its army incursions within the waters and airspace across the island. Biden has responded by declaring that if Taiwan is attacked, the USA will defend it with army power — toughening a U.S. coverage that was as soon as ambiguous.

The standoff may simply flip extra harmful. Taiwan’s subsequent presidential election marketing campaign begins subsequent yr, and a few candidates are anticipated to name for a proper declaration of independence — a transfer that China has stated would cross an impermissible “red line.”

If Republicans take over within the U.S. Home of Representatives as anticipated, they’re prone to push for more durable pro-Taiwan insurance policies, together with elevated army gross sales to the island. Conserving this precarious standoff from sliding towards struggle gained’t be straightforward.

The semiconductor struggle is a brand new, extra intense model of an previous downside — the U.S. grievance that China steals American know-how and makes use of it to modernize Chinese language army {hardware}.

Final month, after years of largely ineffectual regulation, the Biden administration imposed sweeping new limits on the sale of superior semiconductors to China — a step aimed explicitly at a core part of Xi’s technique for rushing Beijing’s rise as a scientific, financial and army competitor.

China has responded with offended protests, calling the U.S. export controls the equal of an financial blockade. However it has not retaliated with any equal commerce measures; consultants suspect Xi doesn’t need to take any actions that might danger harming the sputtering Chinese language economic system.

“My guess is that Xi will raise that issue at the summit,” stated Bonnie Glaser, a China knowledgeable on the German Marshall Fund, a U.S. assume tank. “He’ll say that it’s evidence that the U.S. is pursuing a strategy of containment against China. … But I don’t think there’s any way forward on it. If anything, the administration wants to use the same tool in areas beyond semiconductors.”

U.S. officers say they nonetheless hope to restart talks with China on areas the place the 2 nations may be capable of cooperate, like meals safety within the creating world or local weather change.

At a extra fundamental degree, they hope to revive U.S. concepts for “confidence-building measures” together with a long-stalled proposal for a “hot line” communications hyperlink between the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii and China’s Jap Command.

However even these modest steps don’t look attainable this week.

“The Chinese aren’t interested,” Glaser stated.

“Opening communications channels with China doesn’t really solve other problems,” Medeiros added. “It’s unlikely to shift the trajectory [of the relationship], which is toward intensified competition.”

Within the custom of superpower summits, Biden and Xi probably hope to declare their assembly a hit — if solely by the hard-to-measure commonplace of stabilizing U.S.-China relations.

Even when they do, the 2 nations nonetheless face much more alternatives for battle than cooperation. The U.S.-China downside is prone to worsen earlier than it will get higher.