The Xi-Biden Summit: Can They Put An End To All Those World War III Scenarios?
The highly anticipated face-to-face between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping is about more than just global trade, it's about putting the brakes on humanity sliding into total chaos and conflict.
PARIS — The stakes at this summit couldn't be higher: Can the two superpowers of our time come together to prevent the world from descending into chaos? Currently, there are two major conflicts, Ukraine and Gaza, along with numerous other disputes, all happening within the context of a Sino-American strategic rivalry that threatens to escalate at any moment.
Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will take advantage of an APEC summit bringing together Asia-Pacific nations, held this year in San Francisco, California, for an exceptional face-to-face encounter. The last time they met was a year ago, on the sidelines of the G20 in Bali, where the two leaders agreed on a "deconfliction" agenda, as military professionals would phrase it.
However, the incident involving a Chinese spy balloon spotted over the United States earlier this year has derailed progress, necessitating a fresh start.
The mere fact that this meeting is taking place is positive in itself. Xi did not attend the G20 in India in September; the timing was not right. This time, he is attending, and Chinese official media have shifted their tone towards the United States, preparing public opinion for a positive summit.
A new red phone
Even if Beijing and Washington will not just make peace and part as friends, they will establish the rules of engagement to disagree without necessarily going to war. This is significant.
Unlike the communication channels established during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviets, there is a lack of communication between China and the United States, particularly between their respective militaries. This absence of direct communication channels poses a risk, especially given the frequent close encounters in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait. The establishment of a modern-day "red phone" would be a prudent measure to prevent minor incidents from escalating due to a lack of communication.
On the military front, the two countries are working on a declaration committing both not to develop autonomous weapons, those equipped with artificial intelligence capable of making firing decisions. This is a substantial issue as well.
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at San Francisco International Airport for a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden
Will it help in the current conflicts? Not directly, as Xi is unlikely to abandon his ally Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine, and his influence is limited in the Middle East. Nevertheless, an agreement between the United States and China for a peaceful rivalry will help avoid the looming scenario of a Russia-China-North Korea-Iran alliance against the West.
This will not change the nature of their systemic rivalry
China has no interest in worsening the global situation, given its slowing economy and the need for open markets. The technological war between the two giants will persist; the United States aims to reduce risks, while China dreams of self-sufficiency. However, a reduction in tensions would benefit everyone.
This summit will not solve all the problems, and more importantly, it will not change the nature of their systemic rivalry. Yet, by adding predictability to their behaviors, the two leaders will make the world less dangerous.
This is crucial as Taiwan approaches its January elections, a delicate moment for Beijing, and as the United States faces its own election challenges. And, yes, if Donald Trump is elected, it will undoubtedly be a different story one year from now.
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