By AAMER MADHANI, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is taking stock of a newly empowered Xi Jinping as the Chinese president begins a breakaway third five-year term as leader of the Communist Party. With US-China relations already strained, Washington is increasingly concerned that tougher days are ahead.
Xi has gained unprecedented power over China’s ruling party since Mao Zedong, the leader from 1949 until his death in 1976. Xi’s consolidation of power comes as the United States has updated its defense strategies and national security to reflect the fact that China is now the American leader. strongest military and economic adversary.
Biden is proud to have established a relationship with Xi since he first met more than a decade ago when they were their country’s vice presidents. But Biden now faces a counterpart in Xi backed by a greater measure of power and determined to cement China’s superpower status even as it navigates strong economic and diplomatic headwinds.
“We have not returned to the Mao era. Xi Jinping is not Mao,” said Jude Blanchette, director of Chinese studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But we are definitely in new territory and unpredictable territory in terms of the stability and predictability of the Chinese political system.”
Biden and Xi are expected to hold talks on the sidelines of next month’s Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, a long-awaited meeting that would come after nearly two years of strained relations. The leaders are determined to gain the upper hand in a competition they believe will determine which country will be the world’s leading economic and political force in the next century.
“There are so many issues we need to discuss with China,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. He added that U.S. and Chinese officials have been working to arrange a leaders’ meeting, though a meeting is yet to be confirmed. “Some issues are quite controversial and some should be collaborative,” Kirby said.
Biden and Xi traveled to the United States and China together in 2011 and 2012, and they’ve held five phone or video calls since Biden became president in January 2021. But the US-China relationship has become much more complicated since those who got to know you talk over meals in Washington and on the Tibetan Plateau a decade ago.
As president, Biden has repeatedly blamed China for human rights abuses against the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities, Beijing’s crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, business practices coercive measures, military provocations against autonomous Taiwan and differences over Russia’s pursuit of its war against Ukraine.
Xi’s government has criticized the Biden administration’s stance on Taiwan – which Beijing seeks to unify with the communist mainland – as undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chinese president also hinted that Washington wants to stifle Beijing’s growing influence as it tries to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy.
“External attempts to suppress and contain China may intensify at any time,” Xi warned in his speech to the Communist Party congress. “So we need to be more aware of potential dangers, be prepared for worst-case scenarios, and be prepared to withstand high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms.”
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago who studies China politics, said potentially stabilizing developments were emerging in the relationship after months of bitterness.
Two of the best-known Chinese diplomats in Washington were brought up at the Communist Party meeting. Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been selected for the Communist Party’s Politburo, the political body made up of the 24 top officials. Chinese Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang joins its central committee. Their elevation should bring a measure of continuity to US-China relations, Yang said.
Yang noted that there had also been an effort by the Communist Party leadership to “soften its warm embrace of Russia.” Last month, after meeting Xi on the sidelines of a summit in Uzbekistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that Xi had expressed “concerns and questions” about the war in Ukraine.
With his third term confirmed, “in some ways Xi is now freer to act and less encumbered by not having to always watch what his rivals are doing,” Yang said. “I think that may actually affect his approach and may make him more comfortable in his dealings with Biden.
White House officials have played down hope that Xi’s new five-year grip on the Communist Party could give him leeway to engage more fully on issues where China has overlapping interests with United States.
Biden, in a meeting with Defense Department officials on Wednesday, stressed that the United States is “not looking for conflict” with China. Hours later, Chinese state television reported that Xi had told members of the national committee on US-China relations that Beijing should find ways to work with Washington on issues of common concern.
The moment of reconciliation was short-lived.
The next day, US and Chinese officials were trading rhetorical blows over the US decision earlier this month to extend export controls on the sale of advanced semiconductor chips to China.
“The United States has overstated the concept of national security and suppressed China’s development, and normal business cooperation has been politicized and militarized,” Wang Hongxia, a counselor at the Chinese Embassy, told reporters. in Washington.
His comments came shortly after a senior Commerce Department official, Undersecretary Alan Estevez, told a forum in Washington that ‘if I was a bettor, I’d put money in’. for the United States to impose additional export controls on China.
China’s economy is slowing, with Beijing announcing this month that growth for the first nine months of the year was 3%, which would put it well below its official target of 5.5% for the year. whole. The country’s economy is also moving away from strict ‘zero’ COVID rules, and Beijing is facing a deceleration in exports and property prices that fell to their lowest level in seven years in September.
It also faces increased competition from the United States and the European Union, which are investing tens of billions of dollars to compete on semiconductors and other technologies. All of this points to the possibility that China will not eclipse US gross domestic product by 2030, as many economists have predicted.
Ruchir Sharma, chairman of Rockefeller International, recently concluded that with its likely growth trajectory, China would overtake the US economy by 2060, if it succeeds.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well as Chief U.S. Naval Operations Officer Admiral Mike Gilday have recently expressed concern that Beijing may be trying to speed up its schedule. to take over Taiwan. Blinken said China has made “a fundamental decision that the status quo is no longer acceptable.”
China has largely refrained from criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine, but has also refrained from supplying weapons to Moscow. Still, the conflict has raised fears in Taiwan that China – which has never controlled the island – may be further emboldened to press ahead with its longstanding unification plan.
US-China tensions were further heightened by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August and Biden’s remark in May that the US military would defend Taiwan if attacked by China, then downplayed the White House.
“What is concerning now is that with Xi’s unlimited power and ambition, he could use Taiwan to distract himself from his internal problems,” said Keith Krach, former undersecretary of state under the Trump administration. “I hope he looked at the courage of Ukrainians and felt that the people of Taiwan are just as brave, maybe even more.”
Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.
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