Biden Pivots Back to the Pacific as War Rages in Europe, Middle East

Biden Pivots Back to the Pacific as War Rages in Europe, Middle East
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a news conference at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, Calif. on Nov. 15, 2023. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
Andrew Thornebrooke
11/22/2023
Updated:
11/22/2023
0:00
President Joe Biden is moving to reorient the United States’ strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific after getting bogged down by wars raging in Europe and the Middle East.
The president engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity this week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ (APEC) summit in San Francisco.
There, he sought to regain momentum in the administration’s stalled pivot to the Indo-Pacific.
Biden described the region as “vital” to continued American prosperity and urged business leaders in attendance to “spark new partnerships” and “make new connections” throughout the region.
The president also aimed to shore up U.S. influence with several high-profile meetings, including with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio.
But it was Biden’s much-hyped summit with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping that stole the show, however.
U.S. President Joe Biden looks on during a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping (not pictured) during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' week in Woodside, Calif., on Nov. 15, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden looks on during a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping (not pictured) during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' week in Woodside, Calif., on Nov. 15, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
The White House billed the in-person meet, Xi’s first visit to the States in six years, as the best way to “responsibly” manage competition between the two countries.
The pair spent some two hours together at an elegant estate south of San Francisco, which Biden hailed as producing “some of the most constructive and productive discussions” of the entire week.
In truth, the results were something of a mixed bag.
The two agreed to a few tangibles, including the restoration of high-level military communications and joint efforts to curb the fentanyl crisis, which is at the root of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history.
To that end, Biden secured a commitment in principle from Xi to crack down on producers and exporters of Fentanyl precursors that wind up in Latin America before coming up to the United States.
In exchange, however, Biden agreed to lift its sanctions against China’s Institution of Forensic Science, which is accused of conducting mass surveillance and human rights violations in the Xinjiang region.
On the issue of restoring communications between the two powers, Biden said the pair reached an agreement to make themselves available to one another.
“We’re back to direct, open, clear, direct communication on a direct basis,” President Biden said at a press conference.
“[Xi] and I agreed that each one of us can pick up the phone call directly and we’ll be heard immediately.”
While the tangibles and several photo opportunities helped to send a message of stabilizing ties, the truth is that both leaders came to the summit eager to get ahead of their own problems, namely that neither can commit their full resources to the U.S.-China competition.
In China, Xi is struggling to face mounting domestic woes including a faltering economy and an increasingly frustrated senior cadre of CCP officials who believe Xi is exercising too much personal authority.
Biden, meanwhile, has struggled to get his Indo-Pacific strategy off the ground, as he contends with funding wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and staving off political fallout from both.
Though the two leaders have been temporarily subdued into working with one another, the rough competition between them was still on display.
To that end, Xi urged U.S. business leaders present to “forge a closer bond between our peoples.”
Biden, meanwhile, noted that the U.S. could offer businesses operating in the Indo-Pacific more resources than China, and underscored that U.S. entities had invested $50 billion in APEC economies in 2023 alone, including in clean energy technologies, aviation, and cybersecurity.
The president also openly reaffirmed his belief that Xi was a “dictator” shortly after the summit.
“He’s a dictator in the sense that he is a guy who runs a country, that’s a communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours,” Biden said.
Jacob Stokes, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank, said that the meeting should be thought of as a possible beginning for better U.S.-China ties, but certainly not as the end of competition.
“Beijing’s actions over the coming weeks and months will ultimately prove the value of this engagement one way or another,” Stokes said in a prepared statement.
“In other words, at best the meeting marks the beginning of a tenuous process of stabilization, not its endpoint.”
Others, though, were more critical of the engagement.
The Biden–Xi meeting “was an embarrassment, but unsurprising,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in a statement to The Epoch Times.
“I do not trust a word that Xi Jinping says, and neither should any American, including Joe Biden. Actions speak louder than words. And communist China’s actions have told us that they choose to be our enemy.”
Adam Savit, director of the China Initiative at America First Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank, agrees and says the CCP leader isn’t sincere about mending fences with the U.S. government.
“Xi’s actions have shown he’s not worthy of his promises and not serious about improving ties with the United States,” he told The Epoch Times.

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Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
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