A summit between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping could be the only way to find a way forward in the strategic competition between the world’s two largest economies, a former White House official said Thursday.
Evan Medeiros, former President Barack Obama’s top advisor on the Asia-Pacific region, said only top leadership in Beijing could help address the most controversial issues at the heart of the US-China competition.
“There’s really no other approach right now that has such a good chance of working because of the structure of the Chinese system, because of the power of Xi Jinping, because of the centralized decision-making,” said Medeiros, now professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University. said CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia”.
“I think the Biden administration is right not to say they want to eliminate the middlemen, but they want to use that high-level commitment between Biden and Xi to set the overall tone and direction of the relationship,” he added .
White House security advisor Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi held high-level talks in Zurich on Wednesday. This was their first face-to-face meeting since a March meeting in Alaska, which began with an unusual public dissemination of grievances on both sides.
During the talks in Zurich, both sides reached a “fundamental agreement” to hold a virtual meeting between Biden and Xi, sources Kayla Tausche of CNBC said on Wednesday.
Relations between the US and China have remained rocky in recent years. Both sides have argued on issues ranging from trade and technology to human rights and the origins of Covid-19.
If there are some positives coming out of that, that would be great, but this isn’t a big thawing out of the relationship.
Center for Strategic and International Studies
But bilateral tensions are not heading towards a “big thaw” even if communication between the two countries appeared to be improving, analysts said.
Scott Kennedy of the Think Tank Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC said the expected Biden-Xi virtual summit signals a “limited thaw” in bilateral relations. But it will help stabilize competition between the US and China and prevent accidents, he said.
“If that brings some positive results, that would be great, but this is not a great relationship thaw,” Kennedy, senior advisor and trustee for Chinese business and economics at CSIS, told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia. . “
Tensions over Taiwan
Topics discussed at the Sullivan and Yang meeting in Zurich included China’s actions on Taiwan, according to a White House statement.
And Taiwan will “sure” reappear when Biden and Xi hold their virtual meeting, Kennedy said. The meeting is expected later this year.
Taiwan has reported several cases in the past few days of Chinese warplanes breaching its air defense zone. The island said 148 Chinese Air Force planes had crossed the southern and southwestern parts of the zone in the four days since Friday – when China celebrated its national day.
This prompted the US State Department to urge Beijing to “end military, diplomatic and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.”
The ruling Communist Party of China in Beijing claims Taiwan, a democratic self-governing island, as an out of control province that will one day have to be reunited with the mainland – if necessary by force. The party has never controlled Taiwan, but has recently become more assertive in its territorial claims.
The US does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is the island’s main international supporter and arms supplier. That’s upset with China, which sees the US as meddling in its “internal” affairs.
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Medeiros, the former Obama adviser, said Taiwan was a “very, very challenging” issue for the US and China to resolve.
“Building guard rails, setting boundaries begins with clear, consistent and credible communication from the top of the US government to the top of the Chinese government, so that they understand how we perceive these massive strike packages over Taiwan, how they react from the United States, “he said.
“Likewise, we need to better understand how Beijing sees our actions. I think there is a widespread misconception in Beijing that the US is trying to go beyond the ‘one China’ policy, and that is what motivates some of its more aggressive activities. “
The “one China” policy refers to the concept that there is only one central Chinese government – the one under the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.