Xi-Biden summit a hopeful sign

Xi-Biden summit a hopeful sign

As the US and China stake out rival security strategies in the Asia-Pacific region, notably on Taiwan, the world takes heart from comments by Chinese President Xi Jinping that Beijing is ready to manage differences with Washington as the leaders of the two superpowers prepare to meet virtually today, the first since US President Joe Biden took office in January.

"Both countries will gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation," Mr Xi said in a letter delivered last Wednesday to the National Committee on US-China Relations in New York. "Cooperation is the only right choice."

The letter also reiterated the need for mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation as China-US relations are now "at a critical historical juncture" and that "China stands ready to work with the United States to enhance exchanges and cooperation across the board".

Mr Xi said the two countries need to "properly manage differences … so as to bring China-US relations back to the right track of sound and steady development".

The last time President Xi and his US counterpart spoke was in September, in a phone call that lasted roughly 90 minutes and dealt with broad, strategic discussions.

But many things have happened in the past few months, prompting escalated tensions. Beijing has ramped up military activities near Taiwan, with a record number of planes intruding into the air defence identification zone of the democratically governed island claimed by China.

China also claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade pass annually, rejecting competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The US, meanwhile, in September unveiled Aukus -- a new alliance with Britain and Australia under which Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines using US technology. Although delivery is years away and China was not specifically named, the announcement angered Beijing.

The Biden administration has also charged Beijing with "genocide" against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and condemned the growing silencing of dissent in Hong Kong. A group of US senators has also joined calls from human rights activists for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, although the Biden administration has not reacted to such calls.

China, meanwhile, has lodged strong objections to a US congressional delegation visit last week to Taiwan. Their arrival coincided with a Chinese Communist Party Central Committee meeting that elevated Mr Xi to the Party pantheon alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Two other US delegations -- one of them including Thailand-born Senator Tammy Duckworth -- visited Taiwan earlier this year and met with President Tsai Ing-wen to discuss American support for Taiwan.

"We ask the US side to immediately stop all forms of official interactions with Taiwan and avoid sending wrong signals to the 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces, lest it seriously undermine China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said last Wednesday.

Despite the ongoing tensions, the US and China -- which together account for 40% of the world's annual carbon output -- are in agreement about the perils of global warming. In an unexpected announcement at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, they said they had agreed to cooperate on limiting emissions to address the climate crisis.

Recognising the significant role that methane emissions play in increasing temperatures, the two countries also said they would work on ways to improve the measurement of such emissions, exchange information on management of methane and foster joint research into the related challenges.

China also intends to develop a "comprehensive and ambitious" national action plan on methane before next year's UN climate conference while phasing down coal consumption during the five years from 2026.

Mr Xi made note of the pact on Thursday. "All of us can embark on a path of green, low-carbon sustainable development," he told a virtual business conference on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit hosted by New Zealand.

Hopefully, we are not wrong to celebrate signs of cooperation between the world's two superpowers. Today's virtual Xi-Biden summit presents the biggest opportunity yet to reset the relationship, even if no major breakthroughs are expected on hot issues, notably Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

But instead of continuing the spiral downwards, the meeting shows a preliminary sign that the relationship between the US and China is getting back on a more normal track.

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