By: Mariano Caucino - 16/11/2023
The fabulous gardens of the Filoli Estate, on the outskirts of San Francisco (California), provided the setting for the long-awaited summit between the presidents of the United States Joe Biden and the President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping.
The meeting of the two most powerful men in the world sought to “stabilize” the deteriorating Sino-American relations. Those that drag years of tensions that led to their lowest point since the restart of their diplomatic relationship in 1979.
The importance of the meeting - held on the margins of the APEC summit - takes on significance derived from the context in which it occurs. Which is marked by the decline of world politics and the proliferation of conflicts in diverse geographies such as Ukraine, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
It is in this context that the expectation for the results of the Biden-Xi summit and the expected announcement of the restart of military communications interrupted after the controversial visit of then Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in the summer of 2022 must be understood.
Likewise, they agreed to establish a joint working group to combat drug trafficking. At the same time, according to the Chinese state agency Xinhua, they agreed to establish a dialogue on Artificial Intelligence and increase the frequencies of commercial flights. For his part, the American president stated that he had stressed to Xi the importance of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.
As is known, in recent months relations between Washington and Beijing had seriously deteriorated since despite the attempt to “thaw” the summit of both leaders on the margins of the G20 in Bali (Indonesia) in November 2022, The episode of the detection of a Chinese balloon over North American territory poisoned the relationship again at the beginning of this year.
The US and China maintain seemingly insurmountable differences on crucial issues such as Taiwan, Human Rights, North Korean provocations, the trade war and the war in Ukraine.
However, People's Daily called the summit “positive, comprehensive and constructive” and expressed hopes that “San Francisco will become a new starting point.”
It is perhaps these modest expectations that can be expected in observation of the reality of the facts. Meanwhile, we live in a world marked by the very bad relationship that the main powers have been developing in the last decade, to an extreme that has led the United States to maintain a simultaneous confrontation with China and Russia.
At the same time as observing how traditionally enemy powers – China, Russia, Iran and Turkey – seem to abandon their old disputes in the face of a community of interests derived from their anti-Western positions. With the disadvantage that this means for those of us who believe in the virtues of the free world.
But the events unfold, in turn, at a time in which, as a result of formidable technological advances, international relations have become truly global for the first time. At the same time, the center of events seems to turn inexorably towards the Indo-Pacific, a scenario in which the strategic interests of the two largest protagonists on the world stage will probably confront each other.
In a framework in which the West seems to face, for the first time in the last five centuries, the elevation of a non-Western competitor to the front line of global leadership. As a consequence of the extraordinary Chinese growth, completed after four decades of opening and capitalist reforms that consecrated its rise to the category of economic superpower.
A reality that coincides with the evident exhaustion of the “unipolar” period that followed the end of the Cold War and that seemed to predict the unlimited extension of North American leadership based on the promotion of democracy and open economies.
Almost thirty years ago, Henry Kissinger wrote in “Diplomacy” that in the 21st century the United States would surely be considered “primus inter pares” of the international system while at the same time remaining a nation like others. Kissinger explained that North American leaders should not view that reality as a humiliation or as a symptom of their national decline, given that throughout almost all of North American history, the United States was, strictly speaking, one nation among others and not the predominant superpower.
Perhaps those teachings will make it possible to remove, as far as possible, the primitive feelings that blame the West for an endless series of humiliations that began with the Opium Wars. Those who can promote the search for a revisionist and challenging policy such as that proposed at the time by Mao Tse Tung. Synthesized in his idea that two winds blew in the world. One came from the West and the other from the East. And that he believed that the latter blew stronger.
At least for a moment, the news from San Francisco seemed to push those convictions aside. Apparently motivated by the observation of a realistic criterion, the leaders bowed to the virtue of prudence. The North American recalled that they had the obligation to ensure that competition did not turn into conflict. At the same time, the head of the CCP Politburo assured that the Earth was large enough to accommodate the ambitions of both powers.
Mariano A. Caucino is a specialist in international relations. Former ambassador to Israel and Costa Rica. He is a member of the InterAmerican Institute for Democracy (Miami, FL).
«The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author».