America, Communist China Prep for Summit Between Biden and Xi Next Month at San Francisco

War in Gaza proves crucial in respect of getting both sides to talk — though, beware, Beijing is nursing ambitions to serve as mediator.

AP/Jose Luis Magana
Secretary of State Blinken, left, and China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, right, with their delegations during a bilateral meeting at the State Department Friday. AP/Jose Luis Magana

America’s relations with China are looking up. That, at least, was the impression that President Biden and China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, conveyed as they staged what amounted to a rehearsal for a presidential summit with China’s Xi Jinping.

The White House has acknowledged the two sides were “working together toward a meeting” at San Francisco during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting between November 11 and November 17.

In a statement released Sunday, Mr. Wang said that the road to the bilateral meeting would not be “smooth sailing” and that they could not rely on “autopilot” to make it happen. He said that the two countries must “eliminate interference, overcome obstacles, enhance consensus and accumulate results.”

Mr. Xi last month skipped the meeting in New Delhi of the G20, a parley of leaders of 20 countries and the European Union, but this time, swinging his weight with other Asian leaders, he seems determined not to miss the chance to chat with Mr. Biden.

One factor that seems crucial in persuading both presidents to talk is the war in Gaza in which China, while criticizing Israel’s relentless pursuit of Hamas inside Gaza, has offered to act as a negotiator.

That’s not likely to happen considering Israel’s— and Washington’s — objections to China’s bias in favor of Israel’s Islamic foes. Mr. Biden, however, will want to see if  China might influence Iran, as  the source of supplies, funding, and propaganda for Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, to knock off  its hard-line support for unremitting war against Israel. 

China, more than any other nation, has clout inTehran, whose Islamic Revolutionary Guards are spearheading Hamas. “The mutual attraction between the two authoritarian governments is undeniable,” according to an Iranian-American economics professor at Brandeis University, Nadeer Habibi.

“Iran and China signed a long-term  comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement in March 2021,” said Mr. Habibi, writing for the Stimson Center in Washington. “China has been Iran’s largest trading partner for more than a decade. The two governments have become even closer in face of the growing hostility of the United States toward China in recent years.”

Against this background, Mr. Biden is expected to see if Mr. Xi can persuade Iran to stop spurring on its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, via the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Also, Washington wants China to stop calling for a ceasefire that would halt Israel’s campaign, leaving Hamas to plot more terrorism.

The fact that Mr. Biden spent an hour with Mr. Wang showed the urgency of the discussion while war rages in Gaza. The conversation wasn’t announced until Secretary Blinken introduced him to the president and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, shortly after his arrival in Washington.

Mr. Wang, having called at the outset of his three-day visit for “all-around dialogue,” got the chance as he sat down with Messrs. Biden, Blinken, and Sullivan for a review of familiar differences.

Mr. Biden “emphasized that both the United States and China need to manage competition in the relationship responsibly and maintain open lines of communication,” said the White House readout. Also, Mr. Biden “underscored that the United States and China must work together to address global challenges.”

While America and China may get nowhere on China’s claims to the South China Sea and Taiwan, the tone of their differences has changed.  As the South Korean news agency Yonhap observed, “the Biden administration has been pursuing better ties with Beijing under its drive to ‘de-risk’ — rather than decouple — the bilateral relationship.”

In a foretaste of plans for the summit between the Chinese and American presidents, Global Times, a propaganda paper, sees Mr. Wang’s mission as “an extension of the warming atmosphere in China-US high-level interactions”that should “create the necessary conditions and pave [the] way for higher level exchanges between the two countries.”

An American-Chinese presidential summit may be seen by both leaders as a way to play the Russian card.  Might China, on which North Korea relies for oil and food, tell Kim Jong-un to slow down his nuclear program — and go easy on shipping munitions for the Russians in Ukraine?


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