The US-China rivalry will continue to grow despite renewed courtesies

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in Bali

Side by side in a tropical setting.

(Photo: AP)

One cannot overstate the importance of the meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. How the world positions itself in times of war and after a pandemic depends on the US President and the Chinese head of state and party: economically, technologically, and in terms of climate policy.

After all, there were many polite formulas for the cameras in Bali, even a handshake – all in all, a lot of “good will”, so the impression. Both sides rely on pragmatism born out of necessity. Their common strategic interests force them to do so.

Neither Biden nor Xi want to risk the global economy slowing down again or North Korea becoming an even bigger threat. Therefore, the communication wires, some of which have been severed in recent months, are being soldered back together. That alone is a success, because in the meantime we had hardly spoken to each other at all.

And the meeting was also important symbolically, as a signal in the direction of Moscow. Because while warmonger Vladimir Putin stayed away from the G20 summit, Biden and Xi were seen side by side in front of a tropical backdrop.

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But that the US and China can resolve their biggest conflicts is an illusion. Both nations compete for the top spot in the most powerful economy, and both global giants subordinate almost everything to that goal.

Biden sees the USA strengthened after the midterms

For real rapprochement, either the US would have to accept that China is vastly superior to them in some areas and not see this as a blanket threat to their own prosperity. Or: China respects some basic rules of international trade policy, reduces state influence on its companies – and thus loses some control over its economy. None of this will happen.

“Now how can I say that tactfully?” Biden mused in Bali when asked about relations with China. “The congressional election sent a strong message to the whole world. The US is ready for great action,” said the President, whose party did better than expected at the Midterms. Back down? Not with me, that’s Biden’s message.

Biden can swear a hundred times that he and Xi have known each other well for almost 15 years. This does not soften his China policy. On the China question, Joe Biden is just as uncompromising as his predecessor Donald Trump – with the difference that he is taking a more strategic approach and also wants to win partners in Asia and Europe for this.

The pressure on US allies to take a stand against China will only increase in the coming years. Germany and the European Union must face up to this reality. Economic decoupling from China is unrealistic and makes little sense. But at least a targeted cutting of the umbilical cord is expected from the United States.

This problem remains regardless of who sits in the White House. By the 2024 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats will be outdoing each other over who has more China hawks in their ranks.

Curbing the rise of China in the high-tech sector and boosting domestic production is one of the few goals that still unites both American parties. A single summit in Bali will quickly be forgotten in Washington and Beijing. But not the showdown over who determines the future of the planet.

More: “We spoke very bluntly” – this is how the Biden-Xi summit in Bali went

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