Will Xi or won’t Xi? Why Beijing Holds Off on Confirming Attendance at Apec

All signs point to a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden during the APEC summit in San Francisco in two weeks. But Beijing has yet to officially confirm Xi’s visit, a delay that reflects poor levels of bilateral trust, Beijing’s political culture, last-minute events and concerns that Xi might be embarrassed by trying to win concessions, analysts said.

Factors behind the reluctance include Beijing’s attempt to extract a promise not to announce new sanctions or other dire developments during a visit to Washington by analysts and a People’s Republic of China official.

„The Chinese do not want their leader to be embarrassed before the summit, during a visit to the US or immediately following the trip,” said Bonnie Glaser, Indo-Pacific managing director of the German Marshall Fund. United Nations.

„This undoubtedly includes the expectation that the United States will refrain from taking steps such as adding new PRC entities to control lists or announcing new export restrictions.”

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China’s Wang Yi has called for 'deeper’ Sino-US dialogue ahead of the Anthony Blinken talks in Washington.

China’s Wang Yi has called for 'deeper’ Sino-US dialogue ahead of the Anthony Blinken talks in Washington.

In 2017, Xi was uneasy when then-President Donald Trump launched — the two leaders sat down to steak and pan-seared fish at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — a missile attack on Syria, considered a U.S. superpower. Play to Trump’s upcoming talks with Xi regarding North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Analysts, however, said the White House was unlikely to deliver a „no news” promise given concerns about a more diverse US political system and a softer China heading into the 2024 presidential election.

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„It’s just a matter of time,” Glazer noted. „The Biden administration is likely to continue implementing policies aimed at improving American competitiveness.”

The stakes are high for the long-awaited Xi-Biden meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in mid-November, as the two sides try to put a floor under the strained relationship on Taiwan, trade, Technical, security and other issues.

Xi-Biden talks a 'step closer’ after Wang Yi’s visit, but China remains cautious

Influenced by the waiting game, analysts say, China wants to keep its options open, allowing it to exit to save face if some last-minute catastrophe threatens to undermine the image it seeks to project at home of a leader deeply respected by the nation. Global position.

Foremost in mind is the rapid decline after the United States detected a Chinese surveillance balloon passing over North America in late January and early February. its downfall That angered Beijing and plunged relations into a deep freeze ahead of a planned trip to China by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who canceled his trip.
Here are the potential landmines that may appear on Beijing’s radar right now: The latest Conflict Chinese and Philippine ships in contested South China Sea; Reported near misses between US and Chinese fighter jets; Taiwan’s pending presidential election; China’s economic and property crisis; and the Israel-Gaza and Ukraine wars.

„There are a few dark clouds, and if they were me, I would wait,” said Jeffrey Moon, a former National Security Council official and founder of China Moon Strategies Consulting.

„For example, if the Chinese now announce that Xi will meet with Biden in Apec, and then a spy balloon-type incident occurs, forcing him to cancel his participation, US-China relations will be worse than the Chinese. He remained silent for now about the expected meeting,” Moon added.

Strengthening relationships is more important than many people think

Geoffrey Moon, China Moon Strategies

Last-minute talks on summit „deliverables” make it possible for Beijing to hold off on its bargaining position — China still hopes Washington will drop punitive trade sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. .

„It’s very common,” said Jack Cooper, a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute. „In any negotiation, when it comes down to the wire, you’re putting pressure on everyone to agree to little issues to increase foreign exchange.”

Added to the mix is ​​Beijing’s political culture, which places great emphasis on stage management, ceremony and control, heavily controlled news media and a premium placed on the honor of top leaders, prompting officials to triple-check every detail. .

In 2006, when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the White House, it mispronounced China’s national anthem as „Republic of China” and a protester called US President George W. Hu yelled at Bush to stop the persecution of Falun Gong, a religion. Movement is banned in China.

In 1997, when Jiang Zemin visited the United States, the first Chinese president to visit since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, Beijing insisted that Jiang be appointed a special US ethics officer.

The State Department has stopped the practice, but acquiesced to the Chinese — „it’s not necessary or useful,” said Moon, who helped arrange logistics for Jiang’s trip.

„So a product of this scale is not unique,” he noted.

South China Sea: Conflict brings three-way game of chicken close to brink

Asked on Friday when Xi might arrive, a senior White House official said Washington would „leave it up to the Chinese side” to determine the timing, with Beijing often confirming leaders’ trips closer to the date.

China similarly waited until days before the September 20 group meeting in New Delhi to announce Xi’s absence. Beijing did not explain its decision, but analysts said China sought to avoid highlighting Sino-Indian border issues, contributing to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid for Global South leadership — or downplaying the impact of any Xi-Biden meeting.

While US presidential summits take time to organize for anyone involved, this one is particularly freighted with a level of distrust. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a preparatory trip to Washington last week, following visits to Beijing by the US State, Commerce and Treasury Secretaries and CIA Director William Burns.

„Summit meetings, especially between the US and China, have never been interrupted,” said Moon, a former US ambassador to Sungdu. „But what’s unusual about this case is that there are multiple trips back and forth to a summit that, as we can see, have modest results.”

Analysts note that much of the choreography commonly seen before Chinese summits involves official and unofficial conversations; in person Meetings; and toned rhetoric. Xi, who rarely meets foreign dignitaries, sat down in Beijing in recent days with bipartisan congressional delegations led by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
He greeted US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in Beijing on October 9. Photo: AFP/Getty Images/TNS

A Chinese official, who is not authorized to speak publicly, argued that because Cabinet officials report to him, Biden can promise to withhold any embarrassing news or revelations if he chooses.

A former White House official noted that the principled American position has become more difficult after Trump’s actions, known to meddle in bureaucracy. A decision was made in May 2018 to reverse regulatory restrictions on Chinese telecom giant ZTE, allowing it to continue operating.

In the past, bilateral summits have promised a road map for improved relations, but analysts said the current situation would ensure that things don’t get worse.

„Strengthening relationships is more important than many people realize,” Moon said. „We’re not even pretending to like each other. We’re just trying to find a way to live together.

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