President Joe Biden raised the need for talks about “strategic stability” during his first virtual summit with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, according to the president’s national security adviser.
“The two leaders agreed that we would look to begin to carry forward discussions on strategic stability,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan delivered the remarks during a readout of the summit, hosted by Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution. He noted that there were no mature dialogue mechanisms over strategic stability with China as there are with Russia, but hoped for more cooperation in the future.
Intense Discussion of Broad Issues
Sullivan described the summit as a “more intense, engaged session” than previous phone calls between the two national leaders. Biden and Xi spoke about working to improve diplomacy, technology, and security issues, he said.
No firm bilateral commitment on the issues was achieved, however.
As such, Sullivan said that Biden’s efforts to enhance the United States’ position in the Indo-Pacific in the months leading up to the summit were a victory. He highlighted the formation of AUKUS and the first in-person summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, as acts that enabled an effective negotiating position.
“President Biden went into this meeting having spent 10 months on his foreign policy, shaping the strategic environment so that he walked into this meeting in an effective position,” Sullivan said.
Biden focused on broad issues such as climate change and public health during the summit, and was working to facilitate greater cooperation with China, even on issues where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may be at fault. Notable among those was the CCP virus, which causes COVID-19.
“When it comes to COVID-19, there are still very real questions about transparency and issues associated with the origins of COVID-19,” Sullivan said. “But we also have to beat this pandemic in the months ahead.”
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement in response to the summit, and to Biden’s decision not to press the CCP more firmly on issues of global safety.
“While the Biden Administration would like to cooperate with Beijing on certain global issues, the CCP has shown time and again that it can’t be trusted—it always puts the Party’s interests first,” Risch said.
“In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, it put its interests ahead of the entire world’s.”
Sullivan said that Biden expressed concern about continuing human rights abuses in mainland China, including the CCP’s campaign of mass repression against the Uyghur Muslim minority group in China’s Xinjiang region, which the United States has formally recognized as a genocide.
“[Biden] raised American concerns about China’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong,” Sullivan said. “He raised concerns about human rights more broadly.”
While no breakthrough was made in terms of security or human rights, Sullivan said that the summit was part of an ongoing process, and that the United States was engaged and proactive.
“Intense competition requires intense diplomacy,” he said. “Last night’s meeting was part of that intense diplomacy.”
Others suggested that the lack of outcomes was indicative of a greater lack of meaning to the summit as a whole.
“I think the fact that both sides were trying to lower expectations throughout was indicative of the fact that there’s really not much that having this type of conversation is going to change in the U.S.–China relationship,” Alexander Gray, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and former deputy assistant at the White House National Security Council, told NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times.
“Having conversations about finding guardrails and imposing some sort of communication to prevent escalation, that’s all well and good,” he said. “But the fundamental disagreements in the relationship are going to continue, regardless of what’s discussed at a summit like this.”
No Taiwan Breakthrough
“Any time the U.S. engages with the Chinese government, we must include a strong message of deterrence on Taiwan and affirm the United States’ commitment to bolster Taiwan’s defenses,” Risch said.
“China’s rapid nuclear build-up is destabilizing and alarming, and the security of our allies and our own nation lies in truly credible extended deterrence.”
Sullivan said that Biden and Xi discussed the self-governed island of Taiwan, which China considers to be part of its sovereign territory and the United States is legally bound to furnish with self-defense capabilities.
Tensions between the two nations remain high, however, as Xi previously vowed to unify Taiwan with the mainland. Biden last month also said that the United States had a commitment to defend the island if attacked, contradicting a long-held U.S. policy.
The Biden administration later walked back on the president’s comments about defending Taiwan, and Sullivan’s comments appeared to affirm the toned-down, ambiguous support of Taiwan.
“President Biden underscored his commitment to the One China Policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances,” Sullivan said, referring to legislation and policies underpinning Washington’s position toward Taiwan.
Sullivan noted that Biden voted for the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, while he was a senator. The Act is the basis of modern U.S.–Taiwan relations, and guarantees that the United States will furnish Taiwan with the means to defend itself.
“[Biden] understands deeply, first-hand, that the Act makes clear that any effort to shape Taiwan’s future by other than peaceful means, is of grave concern to the United States,” Sullivan said.
To that end, Sullivan said that Biden and Xi would continue to seek opportunities to discuss issues of global strategic importance, including the Chinese military’s recent test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapons system.
“These are sensitive and consequential issues that matter profoundly for America’s national security,” Sullivan said.
“We will compete with the full range of our strengths, and we’re going to stand up for our values.”
For his part, Gray expressed skepticism that the current flurry of pre-prepared statements from either side would successfully change things for the better.
“I think we’ll see continued pressure,” he said. “I don’t think that one summit of both sides reiterating talking points is going to change Beijing’s long-held geopolitical calculation.
“I think that we are very unlikely to see a substantive change in Chinese behavior anytime soon. In fact, if we see a change, I’m afraid it’ll likely be in the direction of more provocative action rather than less.”
Kitty Wong of NTD contributed to this report.