Earlier this week, the G-20 summit opened in Indonesia, during which the long-awaited meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping took place. That they met at all means the meeting was a success. That it was three hours long is encouraging too, since unsuccessful meetings tend to end quickly and are followed by inconsequential joint statements, which so far has yet to be issued. This suggests honesty, substance and the promise of future substantive talks.
Indeed, early reports from the meeting corroborate as much. The two were apparently agreeable on topics such as the dangers of nuclear weapons and the prospect of Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting China in the future, even as they reiterated the fact that they are competitors with different views on issues such as Taiwan. Xi allegedly even said the American model of democracy is obsolete.
As I have argued for a year, progress on this front owes not to the virtue of either side but to the geopolitical realities in which they operate. For the United States, the confrontation was anchored in economics. From the U.S. perspective, China has yet to provide ready access to its market for American goods and has been manipulating the value of the yuan to maximize trade and investment – a charge levied years ago by the Obama administration. Washington argued that given the amount of investment and technology provided by American firms, China needed to be forthcoming, especially since public sentiment suggested the U.S. had been exploited by China. China was in no position to comply with American demands without undermining its own economy. Thus was the American foundation laid.