Date: 12 December 2022

After Bali: The Biden-Xi Talks

The rivalry between the US and China has been intensifying since 2018. And, since October 12, 2022, the White House’s reasserted National Security Strategy (NSS) has highlighted China as a direct and imminent threat.


U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met earlier this month during the G20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali with the expectation to find common ground on some of the contending topics among both nations. However, following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August, the bilateral relationship between them continues to deteriorate. Despite the efforts to reach a compromise, the meeting in Bali did not produce the intended results. After all, the widespread demonstrations in China protesting against the sustained COVID-19 lockdown, the controversial political victory of Xi’s third term in power and questions concerning the increase nuclear and ballistic activities in the North Korean peninsula have set the tone of the conversations. Notwithstanding, Taiwan remained the major focus during their three-hour meeting.

In the U.S., Chinesse students demonstrated seeking freedom from China’s “zero-COVID” policy. At the centre of the protest, speak up for Freedom back home, claiming that Xi’s government is no less but a “fascist leader”. Despite this, both leaders agreed against the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On its part, President Biden stressed Beijing’s “obligation to temper North Korea’s destabilizing missile and nuclear activity.” Confrontation beyond commercial policies were evident more than ever regarding topics such as Taiwan, technology and human rights. Beijing has made clear that Taiwan is and will remain at the core of its national interest.

In addition, the long-seething South China Sea territorial conflicts involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have long been regarded as a delicate fault line in the U.S.-China rivalry in the region. Recently, a heated exchange of claims took place after a U.S. Navy warship performed the first freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea. In this context, “China says this action by the US military “seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty and security”. Having said this, China’s pacific ambitions have also progressively rattled Australians, particularly, amidst the agreement between China and the Solomon Islands early this year. The agreement is said to allow China to enhance its naval presence in the South-Pacific guaranteed strategic access to important waters.

In this context, the U.S. alone has acknowledge that general containment will require strong allies, calling for the EU to step in. However, “the European Union has dubbed China as a “strategic rival” on different occasions, it is pursuing a different approach from the U.S.” Back in October, the U.S. imposed restrictions on Chinese access to certain U.S.-developed technologies. For which the EU responded on a similar stand through a series of legislative proposals. Notwithstanding, the EU will try to carve out its own China strategy. This diverging perspectives in Chinesse policy may drive a new phase in the Transatlantic Rift between the U.S. and the EU. With the visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to China in early November and the European Council President Charles Michel last Thursday, the EU sees the relationship with China to be ‘improving’. In another turn, the U.S. comes to agreement with France on military elements pertaining to Russian and NATO upon the official dinner hosted by President Biden welcoming French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House last Thursday. Indeed, one cannot deny that transatlantic politics have entangled and the geopolitical reality of the contemporary landscape seems more complex than ever.


Katja-Elisabeth Herrmann Katja-Elisabeth works as a research fellow at the Warsaw Institute. She has a background in Transatlantic Affairs from the College of Europe (Warsaw, Poland) and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Additionally, Katja-Elisabeth holds a BA in International Relations and International Organizations which she combined with a degree in International and European Law from the University of Groningen. During her undergraduate studies, her main focus explored the nexus between technology and law in the European Union. She has recently been awarded the Squire Patton Boggs Foundation public policy fellowship in 2022. As part of her work under the fellowship program, her research is devoted to relevant topics of transatlantic affairs interest from a legal and political perspective.


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