Mint Explainer: What did the meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping achieve?

America and China resumed military communications and cooperation on the flow of fentanyl after a key meeting between US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping in San Francisco. The two leaders discussed a range of global challenges in an effort to arrest the decline in the bilateral relationship. Mint explains what happened, and what it means for US-China relations and for India.

What was the background to the meeting?

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco. They last met during the G20 Summit in Bali in 2022, when they expressed a desire to contain tensions between their countries. Key channels of bilateral communication had previously broken down due to these tensions. For example, China ceased formal military communication with the US after then speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022. Heading into their San Francisco meeting, expectations were that the two leaders would resume cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

What happened?

The two sides delivered on those expectations. After their talks on Wednesday, Biden and Xi announced that military-policy talks would resume. Both countries will also cooperate to stem the flow of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug, which has caused thousands of deaths in America. 

The two leaders also held “candid and constructive” discussions on Taiwan, the Middle East crisis, climate change and artificial intelligence, among other things. They also agreed to continue high-level visits and bureaucratic consultations on issues of interest.

What does this mean for the US-China relationship?

Experts have stressed that the meeting had limited goals – restoring communication and cooperation – which it  achieved. The restoration of military talks is welcome as it reduces the chances of miscommunication and potentially devastating consequences. 

However, little was done to reach a broader understanding on sticking points such as America’s technology-export curbs and China’s aggressive military posture in Asia. Given the state of bilateral ties, such an understanding may be take some time.

Does it have implications for India?

India has always been sensitive to the possibility of a US-China rapprochement. New Delhi is aware that the threat from China has boosted its partnership with the US in recent years. India may welcome more managed competition and more dialogue between the United States and China, but a broader improvement in US-China ties would reduce New Delhi’s value to Washington as a strategic partner.

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