/ 12 February 2021

Biden and Xi say hello/ni hao

Newly-minted US President Joe Biden and China’s forever-leader Xi Jinping got on the blower yesterday for the first time since the American’s inauguration last month. Xi’s last call with former President Donald Trump was almost a year ago with the pair at odds over trade, regional security, and the pandemic. And with Biden’s approach not expected to deviate much on his predecessor’s course on some key issues, there are some thorny issues to navigate…

Biden wants a “more purposeful and steady approach” in the Asia-Pacific region, while Xi urged cooperation because confrontation would be a “disaster” for both nations. China hasn’t detailed its side of the conversation, but for America’s part:

• On trade, the US will keep Trump’s tariffs in place while a review is undertaken. And Biden’s team say they plan to adopt Trump’s focus on ‘strategic competition’ with China – but they’ll do it in collaboration with others, including Australia.

• On China’s strategic ambitions, Biden told Xi the US will seek to counter their “increasingly assertive actions in the region”.

• And on human rights, Xi maintained his hard line on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan – matters of “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. That won’t stop the US from speaking up on abuses, Biden flagged.

Australia? Biden and PM Scott Morrison had their first call last week, and China was discussed. Morrison has previously said he thinks Biden’s arrival on the scene could “change the atmospherics” with China. That’s already happening with Xi offering to open the lines of communication “to avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment.” But with some unwieldy problems to handle, it’s not going to be easy. Reports say US officials acknowledge that “the lion’s share of the history of the 21st century is going to be written in the Asia-Pacific.” So no pressure then…

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