THERE’LL certainly be a lot to chew on when the presidents of the two most powerful nations on earth meet face-to-face for the first time at the G-20 Summit in Bali, starting today.
As what’s been called “A Week of Global Diplomacy in Asia” continues following the end of the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Cambodia, the Xi-Biden tête-à-tête has been built up as one with implications and consequences for bilateral US-China ties, and their common problems, especially in trade and technology, security and ideology, Taiwan and the growing military escalation in the Korean Peninsula.
The US mid-term elections campaign featured none of the blistering bluster that accompanied the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces’ earlier statements on his willingness to deploy US troops to fight China over Taiwan, resulting in top State Department and Pentagon officials, each time, distancing themselves from his publicly-stated positions, and insisting that US policy (against independence for Taiwan) hadn’t changed.
President Xi, aware that Washington’s active embracing of Taiwan under his watch is at clear variance with President Biden’s words, has repeatedly reiterated that while Beijing prefers peaceful reunification (of Taiwan with the Mainland), it would not rule out the use of force.
With last month’s Communist Party of China (CPC) Congress not yielding any of the predicted expectations of the international mainstream media, attention has returned to Washington’s semi-conductor war on China, also launched last month when they imposed export controls to prohibit the sale of cutting-edge microchips, and the equipment used to make them, to Beijing.
Taiwan is the main provider of those essential chips to the US, and with supplies choked by the COVID-19 supply chain, and further blocked by the tensions sparked by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to the island, Washington has been moving to build a local private sector-led production base, while attempting to torpedo China’s rise as the next biggest player on the global semi-conductor market.
The never-ending US trade war with China is still very much alive in the ASEAN region, where member-states have over $900 million in trade with neighbouring Beijing, and President Biden, on Friday, announced a new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership project to pour $800 million into the region in 2023.
But, skeptical ASEAN nations remember the much-vaunted “Pivot to East Asia” announced by President Barack Obama (2009-2017) that wasn’t followed-up with the expected cash injections. Still, US-China ties have not been a bed of roses of late.
Following the Pelosi visit, China’s Foreign Ministry said dialogue between US and Chinese regional commanders and defence department heads would be cancelled, along with talks on military maritime safety, as well as suspension of cooperation on returning illegal immigrants, criminal investigations, transnational crime, illegal drugs and climate change.
China, last month, secured a stake in Germany’s port of Hamburg, but a US State Department official was reported in the international press as saying China’s share was reduced, from 35 per cent to 25 per cent, due to pressure from the American Embassy in Berlin.
“The Embassy was very clear that we strongly suggested that there’d be no controlling interest by China, and, as you see when they adjusted the deal, there isn’t,” the official said.
American officials were also, last week, reported as heading to the Netherlands to talk about blocking the sale of Dutch microchip components to China.
Japan was also expected to fall in line with new US export controls targeting China’s chip-making industry, but Tokyo, last week, struck a blow to the push to get G7 countries to support a proposed cap on the global price of Russian gas, after Japan announced it was sticking with its stake in Russia’s ‘Sakhalin-1’ oil-and-gas project, if only because its economy needs Russian fuel imports.
Canada also, last week, cited “national security” to dump Chinese stakes in three lithium mines, with Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne saying the country welcomes foreign direct investment, but not when it threatens “critical minerals supply chains”.
African countries also complained earlier this year of being threatened with sanctions by Washington for trading with Russia and China.
But traditional Western concern continues about China’s unrelenting advances on all global fronts (economic, political, geopolitical, diplomatic, military, technological and industrial fields), and its advances in space exploration and deeper and wider cooperation with developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, but also in the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) continues to grow and widen, and even while continuing to criticise it as a ‘”Debt Trap”, the G-7 nations on June 26 announced, through President Biden, the collective mobilisation of $600 billion by 2027, admittedly to counter the BRI by “delivering game-changing” and “transparent” infrastructure projects to developing nations.
China also has a crucial role as an important cog in the wheel of progress towards Climate Change.
As the leading industrialised nation in the rich world, and one that’s offered to do more than most of the world’s other major polluters responsible for worsening Climate Change, China continues to argue for developing nations, while the G-7, and other rich nations within the G-20 , have to start accounting for their Climate Debt, which they agreed to start trying to quantify only in 2022.
China also outpaces its competitive critics in Green Development, while they show more interest in concepts like “Monetisation of Climate Change.”
The Xi-Biden parley has also been colourfully described as “the first superpower summit of the second Cold War”, but while the two leaders will naturally discuss hot-button nuclear issues, neither side should be expected to recoil or reverse on the issues that have so steadily deepened the divisions between Beijing and Washington since President Obama’s departure in 2016.
Against this background, earth-shattering or groundbreaking announcements may not be forthcoming from Bali, but the very fact that the two most powerful nations in the world are talking, and not fighting, is progress.