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Biden and Xi use Bali to turn down the heat

Better relations with Washington are clearly in China’s interest

After months of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing amid talk of economic decoupling and a new cold war, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping sought in Bali to turn down the heat. The disputes at the source of the tensions, including those over Taiwan, human rights, technological competition and fair trade, remain highly charged, but Monday’s meeting could help to slow the drift into conflict.

Biden has in recent months appeared to abandon Washington’s policy of strategic ambiguity over defending Taiwan militarily while the mood in Congress has become increasingly hostile towards China. But when he met Xi the US president reaffirmed his commitment to the One China policy and explicitly rejected the idea of Taiwan independence.

Xi said the Taiwan question was “at the very core of China’s core interests” and was fundamental to the relationship between China and the US. And he rejected the claim of the collective West to have a superior system of governance.

“The so-called ‘democracy versus authoritarianism’ narrative is not the defining feature of today’s world, still less does it represent the trend of the times. President Xi pointed out that the two countries take different paths; while the United States practises capitalism, China practises socialism. Such difference is nothing new and will continue to exist,” the Chinese readout of the meeting said.


Biden came to Bali buoyed by the Democrats’ strong showing in the midterm elections and last month’s Communist Party congress strengthened Xi’s grip on power in China. Xi’s meeting with Biden followed shortly after others with Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz and leaders from Pakistan, Vietnam and Tanzania.

After years of isolation due to the Covid pandemic, Xi’s return to the world stage will see him attend the G20 and Apec summits this week. Apec is a group of 21 countries in the Pacific Rim that promotes economic co-operation and is important to China as a regional body. China views the G20 not as an extension of the G7 group of rich countries but an expression of multipolarity where many member states share Beijing’s scepticism about the moral superiority of the collective West.

Better relations with Washington are very clearly in China’s interest, however, as fears of economic and diplomatic isolation have combined with the zero Covid policy to dampen growth. Any improvement or stabilisation of Beijing’s relationship with Washington has implications for Europe too, easing the pressure on some governments to take a more hawkish stance towards China.