No Breakthrough After First Virtual Summit for Biden and Xi

Specific guardrails on Taiwan 'not part of conversation tonight'
By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
November 16, 2021 Updated: November 16, 2021

President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not reach any “breakthrough” on issues concerning both nations, after their first virtual summit as heads of state on Nov. 15.

Biden said the United States will work to “a​​dvance an international system that is free, open, and fair,” raising concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record and abuses he was aware of in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong.

According to the White House, Biden used the talks as an opportunity to “speak candidly and straightforwardly” to Xi about the intentions and priorities of his administration across a range of issues.

“We were not expecting this meeting to somehow be a sort of fundamental departure point in where we’re at in the relationship between the United States and China. We were not expecting a breakthrough and there were none,” a senior administration official told reporters in a background call after the conclusion of the summit, which lasted 3.5 hours.

According to the official, the two leaders had an “extended discussion” on Taiwan—a key U.S. ally in the Indo-Pacific, which the Chinese regime sees as part of its territory that needs to be united with the mainland, by force if necessary.

“On Taiwan, there was nothing new established in the form of guardrails or any other understandings,” the official said.

The official added: “The idea of establishing specific guardrails with respect to Taiwan was not part of the conversation tonight.”

Biden told Xi that the United States remains “committed to the ‘One China’ policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.”

“The United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the White House said in a statement.

​​In October, Taiwan’s defense minister warned that the Chinese regime would be capable of mounting a full-scale invasion of the self-ruled liberal democratic island by 2025.

Washington is required by law, known as the Taiwan Relations Act, to supply the self-ruled island with military equipment for its self-defense.

According to China’s state-run media, Xi warned Biden that China “will have to take decisive measures” if so-called Taiwan independence forces “cross the red line.”

Other topics that were discussed during the meeting included the climate crisis, global energy supplies, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iran, according to the White House.

The official did not comment when asked if the two leaders also talked about nuclear stability or China’s alleged test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile over the summer.

When asked if the meeting would ease tensions between the two countries, the official said the meeting should be viewed from a different angle.

“So I don’t think the purpose was to particularly ease tensions … we want to ensure that the competition is responsibly managed, that we have ways to do that.”

‘Very Different Visions for the Future’

Ian Easton, senior director at the Project 2049 Institute, said he doubted the virtual summit could diffuse tensions between communist China and the United States, in an interview with NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times, on Nov. 15 before the virtual meeting.

Easton suspected that the two leaders may have an argument because “they have very different visions for the future, and especially for the future of Taiwan.”

“I think for President Biden, his main goal, I suspect, is going to be deterrence, to communicate very clearly with Chairman Xi, that if China continues to act aggressively towards Taiwan, that this could ultimately force the United States to move towards a more normal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan and to become increasingly clear about the U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan, if that should become necessary,” Easton said.

In other words, Easton said the meeting would be more about “re-establishing, restoring, rebuilding the credibility of American deterrence.”

Dialogues ‘Not as Beneficial’ to US

Robert Sutter, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, told NTD on Nov. 15 how Beijing might not keep its promises after agreeing to something, pointing to the regime’s past records on intellectual property theft, trade, and the South China Sea.

“In the South China Sea, Xi Jinping is notorious for having said that he would not militarize the islands in the South China Sea. And so Washington knows that he said that, and of course, it never happened, it went just the opposite. So this is the record,” Sutter explained.

He warned that China used these dialogues between senior leaders “as a disguise of what their policy is,” and that “they say it’s one thing, and they do something quite different.”

“And so these kinds of dialogues are not necessarily, as institutions are seeing, as beneficial to the United States,” he said.

Sutter also said that neither Biden nor Xi were expected to back down in their negotiations, since both leaders “have strong imperatives to stay strong,” meaning that it would be “very difficult to see how they’re going to resolve specific issues that are sensitive to both sides.”

“Xi Jinping is coming off a very strong showing in the plenary meeting. And the party congress is coming up next year. And he set out a whole series of policies that are very offensive to the United States. But I don’t think he’s going to back off from these policies. He wants to appear strong,” Sutter said.

In October, Beijing has issued a new set of draft rules requiring companies to seek government approval before being allowed to transfer data abroad, potentially affecting foreign companies in both China and Hong Kong.

In June, Beijing passed a new law preventing companies from complying with foreign restrictions placed on Chinese citizens and firms.

The Summit

Lee Cheng-hsiu, a deputy researcher at Taiwan’s National Policy Foundation, told The Epoch Times after the summit that there was no way that Biden would back off his support for Taiwan.

If Biden did, Lee said that it would be equivalent to the United States giving up its commitment to the entire Indo-Pacific region.

As for Xi, Lee said the Chinese leader wouldn’t give up on China’s position on Taiwan because the territorial issue was tied to the “CCP’s legitimacy.”

Feng Chongyi, a professor on China studies at the University of Technology in Sydney, told The Epoch Times after the summit that Xi was willing to take part in the meeting because he needed the support of the Biden administration, given the economic problems inside China and how the regime has become increasingly isolated in the world.

The Chinese regime, according to Feng, was playing the delay game, meaning that as long as the U.S. government doesn’t take hard measures against it, Beijing would continue its campaign of trade and military aggression, including its theft of American intellectual property and military advancement program.

If Beijing is allowed to continue this campaign, growing more powerful, then Washington would also be less and less willing to confront the Chinese regime, Feng added.

Luo Ya and Kitty Wang of NTD contributed to the article. 

Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.