Following the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in San Francisco on Wednesday, analysts say Beijing is hoping to de-escalate tension with the U.S. by easing its stance and projecting a less confrontational tone.
“In the official readout, Xi states China has no plan to surpass or supplant America and he also notes that China doesn’t export its ideology, showing a markedly narrower scope of geopolitical ambition,” Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University (ANU), told VOA in a written response.
He said the messages are in stark contrast to Xi’s previous proclamation that “the East is rising and the West is falling.”
In the official readout released on Thursday, Xi highlighted the importance for Beijing and Washington to avoid confrontation, saying that “turning their back on each other” is not an option for the two superpowers.
“Major-country competition can’t solve the problems facing China and the United States or the world,” he said. “The world is big enough to accommodate both countries and one country’s success is an opportunity for the other.”
Apart from emphasizing the need to avoid conflict, Xi said China has no plan to “surpass or unseat the United States” and that it doesn’t export its ideology.
He laid out five principles for Beijing and Washington to manage bilateral relations, calling on both sides to develop a “right perception,” jointly manage disagreements, advance mutually beneficial cooperation, shoulder responsibilities as major countries, and promote people-to-people ties.
“It is important that they appreciate each other’s principles and red lines and have more communications, more dialogues, more consultations and calmly handle their differences as well as accidents,” Xi said.
Some experts say the points highlighted in the readout and other efforts from Beijing before the meeting all suggest the Chinese government’s desire to frame the meeting between Biden and Xi as a success. “I think the overall response [from Beijing] was firm but positive,” Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at International Crisis Group, told VOA by phone.
In her view, the Chinese government wants to project the image that it remains in control of the bilateral relationship but it’s also opening up to the U.S. “[Beijing wants to show] that it is extending a gesture out to the U.S. to improve relations but it’s doing so from a position of strength,” she said.
While some analysts view Beijing’s messages from the readout as largely conciliatory and positive, others say it still reflects China’s reservation about Washington’s possible attempt to influence its governance system.
“The mention of not changing each other’s systems suggests China’s suspicion that the United States is out to alter its communist party-dominated system,” Ian Chong, a political scientist at National Singapore University, told VOA in a written response.
Xi emphasizes ‘common interests’
Apart from emphasizing the importance of preventing competition from escalating into conflict, Xi also highlighted the need for China and the U.S. to expand cooperation in a wide range of areas, including economy, trade, agriculture, climate change, and artificial intelligence.
“The common interests between China and the United States have increased, not decreased,” he said, according to the readout.
Despite his emphasis on broadening the scope of bilateral cooperation, Xi also urged the U.S. to end export controls and the practice of investment screening, referring to a government executive order that restricts U.S. investments into Chinese companies or Chinese-owned companies engaged in three advanced technology areas.
“Stifling China’s technological progress is nothing but a move to contain China’s high-quality development and deprive the Chinese people of their right to development,” Xi said, adding that China’s development and growth “won’t be stopped by external forces.”
Sung from ANU said these messages show that Washington’s controls risking may be generating enough pressure on China to force Beijing to “pivot back to a more conciliatory posture.”
“China’s economic woes seem to be catching up with its foreign policy rhetoric,” he told VOA.
As part of the effort to encourage foreign investment in China, Xi told a group of U.S. business leaders that China would be a “friend and partner” of the U.S. while reiterating that Beijing “never bet on the United States to lose.”
“The world needs China and the U.S. to work together for a better future,” he told an audience of business leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. “China is ready to be a partner and friend of the U.S.”
Given the economic slowdown that China has experienced since the start of 2023, Chong in Singapore said Xi would like to encourage foreign investment and technological exchanges, as it “could help foster growth” in the Chinese economy.
Attempt to reduce tension over Taiwan
Despite the ongoing tension between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, Xi still briefly addressed the topic during his meeting with Biden. According to the readout, he urged the U.S. to “take real actions” to honor its commitment of “not supporting Taiwan independence, stop arming Taiwan and support China’s reunification.”
“China will realize reunification, and this is unstoppable,” he said.
Compared to previous statements on Taiwan, Hsiao from the International Crisis Group said Xi’s remarks on Wednesday were relatively brief. “In the past, you would see a long elaboration of China’s position on Taiwan, but this tone is different,” she told VOA.
In her view, the latest statement from Beijing is more specific about what China is asking of the U.S. when it comes to Taiwan. “I think what we have seen from this readout, as well as from the U.S. side, indicate that the two sides are seeking to de-escalate around Taiwan, particularly because there are elections coming up, which could create unknowns in the relationship and could potentially see tensions flare up,” Hsiao said.
While the messages from China seem more positive and conciliatory, Hsiao said the essence of U.S.-China relations hasn’t changed.
“It remains a competitive relationship and even if China continues to say that it believes it’s not a competitive relationship, it will continue to see Washington as a key rival in reality,” she told VOA.
She thinks the biggest achievement of the Biden-Xi meeting is to create some protection against some key events that will take place in the next year, including presidential elections in Taiwan and the U.S.
“It’s important that this meeting occurred so we have that buffer going into the year where things might get commensurate,” Hsiao said.