Is Communist China Downgrading the Issue of Taiwan as It Readies for a Parley Between Xi and Biden?

Ahead of the Sidelines Summit at the G7 in San Francisco, a party organ, Global Times, suggests Taiwan will be but ‘one of the topics’ of concern on the communist side.

AP/Wason Wanichakorn
A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest against the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation APEC summit venue at Bangkok, Thailand. AP/Wason Wanichakorn

While wars rage thousands of miles away in Gaza and Ukraine, Washington focuses this week on keeping the peace in Asia, a region also on the brink of conflict. President Biden is due to meet Communist China’s party boss, Xi Jingping, on the sidelines Wednesday of a gathering at San Francisco of leaders of 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference.

The idea, according to the White House, is to “responsibly manage competition and work together where our interests align” — fancy language for smoothing over the communist country’s aggressive pursuit of power and influence all around the Pacific Rim.

Already teams of diplomats and economic experts have arrived for talks, mostly on economic issues. The meeting of the American and Communist Chinese presidents may not be on any formal agenda, but it’s the highlight of the week. 

“China-US high-stakes summit highly anticipated,” headlined a voice of China’s ruling Communist Party, the Global Times. “Observers cautiously optimistic on Xi-Biden meeting, serving to stabilize bilateral ties ahead of US 2024 elections.”

That optimistic view reflects Mr. Xi’s desire to tamp down tensions while the Chinese economy faces a downturn that some attribute to his harsh rule. “We are basically seeing a repeat of Chinese history, when the Chinese state previously restricted economic and political freedom,” says a professor at MIT School of Management, Yasheng Huang, in an interview on his new book, “The Rise and Fall of the East.”

“And with that comes economic stagnation,” he says.

Mr. Biden seems eager to get over the acrimony pervading American-Chinese relations, as seen dramatically in the Chinese response to the visit of Speaker Pelosi to Republic of China, which is on Taiwan, in August of last year.  Ever since, the People’s Republic, as the communist regime is known, has been sending planes into the RoC’s Air Defense Identification Zone and navy vessels close to its territorial waters.

Mr. Biden set the course for rapprochement when he remarked in May, “We’re not looking to decouple from China, we’re looking to de-risk and diversify our relationship with China.” The context was another meeting on economic issues — that at Hiroshima. It comprised leaders of the seven biggest western economies, including America, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan.

Since then, members of Mr. Biden’s government — including the commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo, in August; the treasury secretary, Janet Yellen; the climate envoy, John Kerry in July, and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, in June — have visited the People’s Republic.

Then, last month, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, met Mr. Blinken and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, in Washington. Although he said “the path to San Francisco will not be easy,” it was obvious Mr. Xi wanted to see Mr. Biden — and vice versa.

Ms. Yellen has been laying the groundwork for Mr. Biden’s policy on China, meeting the vice premier for the economy, He Lifeng, in San Francisco before the weekend. She believes America and China have advanced toward “a healthy and stable economic relationship” since Messrs. Biden and Xi last met at the Apec gathering at Bali a year ago.

One cabinet member who has had less luck with China is the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, who tried and failed to meet his Chinese opposite number, Li Shangfu, at a security dialog at Singapore in June.  

Mr. Li refused to see him after Mr. Austin decried the “unnecessarily aggressive” maneuvering of a People’s Liberation Army Air Force jet that came close to an American fighter over the South China Sea, which China claims as its own. America would not accept Chinese “coercion and bullying,” said Mr. Austin.

Mr. Austin, visiting Seoul for a “strategic dialog” with South Korean defense officials, then goes to Indonesia to shore up America’s defenses in the region.

Among the most contentious issues is the existence of a democratic government on Taiwan, which the People’s Republic of China and America will circumvent with double-talk.

That is, Mr. Biden is likely to say that America recognizes Taiwan as a Chinese province, while hewing to the status quo of Taiwan independence as a bastion of democracy. He’s expected to avoid the topic of America’s “commitment” to defend Taiwan.

Meantime, the communist regime’s Global Times skirted China’s claim to Taiwan, saying that it will be “one of the topics” of concern for the Communist Chinese side — a formulation that strikes this reporter, who has spent five decades on the beat, as an ever-so-slight dilution of the issue.

The New York Sun

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