US–China Relations in the Spotlight as APEC Kicks Off in San Francisco

Epoch Times Staff
By Epoch Times Staff
November 12, 2023International

Global summits rarely make big headlines, but the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting in San Francisco, which began over the weekend, will be an exception.

The event will set the stage for a highly anticipated meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week, which will be watched closely throughout the world. As the summit’s slogan puts it, “APEC is going to be EPIC.”

This year, President Biden is chairing the 30th annual summit, which is bringing together the leaders of the forum’s 21 members from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17 in California.

The summit’s goal is to explore policy ideas and promote international trade and investment. However, the Biden–Xi meeting on the sidelines of the summit will steal the spotlight.

The two leaders are expected to discuss a wide range of potentially contentious issues, including China’s intervention in elections, violations of human rights, the regime’s growing support for Russia and Iran, and the future of Taiwan, according to senior administration officials.

The bilateral meeting will be held on Nov. 15 in the San Francisco Bay area, and it’ll be the two leaders’ second in-person meeting since President Biden took office.

The president hopes to reassure his counterpart that the United States isn’t seeking conflict despite the Chinese regime’s doubts about Washington’s “sincerity.”

“We are in competition with China. But we do not seek conflict, confrontation, or a new Cold War,” one official said during a press call previewing the event.

This will be the Chinese leader’s first visit to the United States in five years. The Chinese side took a long time to confirm the meeting, which came after negotiations between top Chinese and U.S. officials in recent months.

The leaders last met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov. 14, 2022.

Rather than expecting a big reset, both sides are approaching the meeting with the objective of stabilizing their relationship, according to Bonny Lin, a senior fellow for Asian security and director of the China Power Project at CSIS.

Both countries face a potentially “rocky year” in 2024, with Taiwan presidential elections in January and U.S. presidential elections in November—both of which might add more uncertainty to the bilateral relationship, Ms. Lin said during a press briefing by CSIS.

Future of Taiwan

The Taiwan issue looms large for the two superpowers right now, as Taiwan’s election could result in an administration more sympathetic to China than the United States.

Since 1949, Taiwan has had its own government separate from China, although Beijing still considers the island to be Chinese territory. In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has escalated its military intimidation campaign against the island, sending military vessels and aircraft to test Taiwan’s response and even launching missiles over the island.

The upcoming Taiwan election will be a key topic for the Chinese leader during the bilateral meeting, according to Jude Blanchette, Freeman chair in China studies at CSIS.

“They’ll likely be pushing the administration and President Biden specifically to make some public comments on Taiwan,” he said during the CSIS press briefing.

While the United States maintains its “One China” policy, continuing formal relations only with the CCP, it has a legal agreement to equip Taiwan with the weapons it needs to continue its self-defense, including against China.

“Our goal going into the meetings will be to reaffirm, of course, the U.S. One China policy, our focus on maintaining the status quo, our focus on ensuring there’s peace and stability, making clear to the Chinese that any actions or interference in the election would raise extremely strong concerns from our side,” the senior administration official said.

President Biden is also expected to express his concerns about CCP military exercises near Taiwan during the meeting. In his most recent supplemental funding request, the president asked Congress for an additional $2 billion to support Taiwan’s security needs.

According to Antonio Graceffo, a China analyst and a contributor to The Epoch Times, Mr. Xi is likely to question President Biden’s commitment to the self-ruled island at the meeting because the CCP leader believes that the United States can’t wage war on multiple fronts—Ukraine, Taiwan, and now Israel.

“Xi may be probing U.S. weaknesses or testing U.S. commitment to Taiwan,” Mr. Graceffo told The Epoch Times. “Biden will most likely reaffirm U.S. commitment to both Taiwan and peace in the hopes that this will prevent Xi from making a brash move.”

‘Thaw’ in Relationship?

While no major deliverables are expected from the meeting, the leaders may announce the restart of military-to-military dialogue.

Beijing has been hesitant to reopen lines of communication on the military side, and President Biden is expected to “press assertively” on this matter this week, the White House official said.

Last year, China suspended military communications in protest of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The Biden administration has made it a top priority to restore the communication channels.

Mr. Graceffo calls the Biden administration’s efforts to arrange a meeting with Mr. Xi “disappointing.”

“The United States had to basically chase China for the meeting and negotiate the date, time, and other details for weeks, putting China in a position of power,” he said.

U.S.–China relations worsened early this year after a U.S. fighter plane shot down a Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean.

During the G7 summit in Japan in May, President Biden blamed the worsening in relations on the “silly balloon” that flew over the breadth of the United States with spy equipment.

“Everything changed in terms of talking to one another. I think you’re going to see that begin to thaw very shortly,” he told reporters during a press conference at the close of the summit on May 21.

After that, President Biden’s cabinet members traveled to China for talks, but Mr. Xi reportedly refused his request for a meeting for months.

In May, a Chinese state-backed hacking group infiltrated the accounts of high-level administration officials, stealing 60,000 emails from the State Department, which has further complicated the relationship with the CCP.

In June, President Biden referred to Mr. Xi as a “dictator,” claiming that the Chinese leader became agitated when the United States shot down the balloon because “he didn’t know it was there.”

The ongoing Israel–Hamas conflict is expected to deepen the U.S.–China divide. Mirroring its position on Ukraine, China has refused to explicitly condemn Hamas following the terrorist group’s attack on Israel.

“China’s economy is slowing, and Xi will probably be more diplomatic and more open to agreeing to U.S. terms on certain issues in order to increase trade and investment,” Mr. Graceffo said. “In the end, however, nothing concrete will come out of the meeting.”

Despite widespread skepticism about what can be accomplished at the Biden–Xi summit, some still hope that the gathering will help reduce tensions.

“We’ll have to see. I’m not too excited anytime when we’ve got members of the Communist Chinese Party coming over,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) told reporters of the Biden–Xi meeting. “But, at the same time, if it can improve relations, then perhaps it’s a good thing.”

Beijing Will Be ‘Disappointed’

The Chinese economy is worsening, and Mr. Xi has no magic bullet to fix it. This gives the Biden administration some leverage going into the bilateral meeting. Since last year, the administration has imposed and expanded export controls to limit China’s access to critical U.S. technologies.

Some believe that the country’s progress toward replacing the United States as the world’s largest economy has slowed, in part, because of these sanctions. So Beijing sees the upcoming meeting as an opportunity to try to change the course, but Mr. Blanchette predicts that they’ll be disappointed.

“They’re going to be disappointed. I think this will be one of the issues where the U.S. and China will have longstanding tensions,” he said. “I’m sure this will be communicated to Beijing. But still, Beijing is hoping to use the meeting as a platform to make its concerns known.”

During the summit, the Chinese leader will also meet with top U.S. business executives over dinner. Hundreds of people, including the CEOs of major American corporations, are expected to attend the event. Following the trade war and COVID-19 pandemic, American businesses are trying to decouple from China in order to limit risk, resulting in a large decline in direct investments in the country in recent years. According to Mr. Blanchette, the dinner will be a tactical event for the Chinese leader to send a message to global investors.

“We’re going to see next week a series of high-level engagements between Chinese and U.S. companies and investors, trying to send a signal that China’s open for business but also trying to send a signal to the global business environment that China is seen as attractive, as evidenced by these companies flocking to meet with Xi Jinping and have dinner with him,” he said.

“So, for tactical reasons, Beijing wants this. I don’t think, at a broad level, they’re expecting or seeing the prospect of resetting or recalibrating the relationship.”

What’s APEC?

APEC was established in 1989 as an informal forum to promote regional economic cooperation.

Its 21 members are home to about 2.95 billion people and accounted for about 62 percent of the global economy and 48 percent of global trade in 2021.

Members of the forum are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.

Since it consists of economies rather than countries, it permits the participation of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong and self-ruled Taiwan at the summit.

The United States, as the host country, didn’t invite Hong Kong’s chief executive, John Lee, who’s under U.S. human rights sanctions. Instead, Financial Secretary Paul Chan is representing Hong Kong at the summit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t attend the 2022 summit in Bangkok and won’t be present this year either.

Eva Fu and Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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