Western media reports about China are of tensions and animosity, restrictions and sanctions, balloons and drugs. So, it’s easy to believe the China-US relationship has fallen apart. However, look beyond the headlines and political rhetoric, there is a different picture.
The dinner held on the side of APEC saw a Who’s Who of business leaders prepared to put themselves onto the list of “Friendly Organisations”. Xi’s speech at the dinner highlighted the different picture and this is something business leaders know but media consumers don’t: China welcomes cooperation and particularly US cooperation. Xi pointed out that Senator Schumer visited him as well as California’s Governor Newsom. All the meetings went well and he hopes more elected politicians will visit.
Xi is a great proponent of people-to-people relationships: He was the beneficiary of one 40 years ago and pointed out there are 284 sister city/state/province relationships between the two countries; There is $760 billion in bilateral trade; and over 300 direct flights between the two countries every week.
These meetings and numbers indicate media isn’t being honest. People-to-people relations are good, government to government relations have challenges and business to business relations have hurdles but both are still strong.
China and the USA are different; The USA is individualistic while China is communal, this isn’t a good or a bad thing when one knows how to approach it and it’s clear that China’s government does but the US does not, they assume China will react in the way they would react and this is where it goes wrong.
The USA system of governance is good but could be great; it serves the interests of wealthy individuals and corporations more than it serves the people. China has a system of governance which serves the people but the US struggles to understand it. Xi is elected by the National People’s Congress (NPC) and they are elected by the people. The NPC can vote to remove Xi every four years. It’s not so different to the UK or Australia where the Party elects the leader.
The US has freedom of press but it’s not free for all, it’s free within the confines of the owners’ guidelines as well as libel, criminal, foreign influence or national security laws. China has rules on free speech but every person has the freedom to complain, criticise and offer solutions to problems; aggression, insults, lies, ill-informed opinions and foreign influence are not allowed. Again, different, but not much different.
National identity as part of behavioural psychology, is built on several dimensions including equality and individuality. US politics are adversarial as are the judicial system and business environment, These lead to a competitive nature but these features have created a very strong country.
China’s national identity is more communal but less equal; people accept hierarchical differences but are more cooperative. These features have also created a very strong country but in a different way. It’s these differences that cause the problems.
Inevitable differences in opinions can be overcome with common sense and dialogue, which is one reason why many people, who think it was a mistake for Xi to meet Biden, are wrong; but there are other reasons too.
Primarily, China is arguably the most important member of APEC so Xi went to San Fransisco to represent China in the same way he went to Bangkok last year, New Zealand “virtually” in 2021, and so on. He even hosted the Summit in 2014 – in other words – Xi went for an APEC meeting and while there he met with the host on the sidelines.
Media cleverly manipulated us into thinking this was Biden’s diplomatic coup because the US announced they would meet before Xi confirmed he would attend APEC. The Administration already knew President Xi would come, or believed because he always attends. But, as Wang Yi pointed out, the path to the meeting was not smooth.
The fact that President Xi has a smile on his face when he shakes the hand of a man who has called him both a dictator and a thug, whose Secretary of State accused him of Genocide, and whose ambassador to China has accused him of human rights abuses, is a testimony to his diplomatic skills and patience and explains why many Chinese people did not want the meeting to take place.
However, as one YouTube commentator said: the Summit “put a floor to the free-falling China-US relationship since the Nancy Pelosi visit to Taiwan and spy balloon sagas, it will at least ease the anxiety in the business community”.
The outcomes of this meeting may not be known for a while, perhaps not until the State of the Union Address next year but the ease in tensions it brings is another good reason why Xi needed to meet Biden because, by next year, China will have grown even stronger.
Unless there are some significant changes in the way the USA currently manages both its domestic and foreign policies China’s rise to the top is inevitable but China does not seek to usurp or even overtake the USA.
China has grown in global stature, economic and military strength, it grows internally with new infrastructure, increasing personal wealth and better health outcomes including life expectancy. Conversely, the USA grows economically weaker, with a spiralling National Debt; internally it sees increasing crime, poverty, substance abuse, addictions and homelessness. It is diplomatically weaker, as it acknowledges, they are losing ground globally but particularly in the under-developed world; and, while the US may be militarily stronger, it is morally weaker. Their proxy war in Ukraine grinds to a halt through “quiet discussions” and they lose global support over their policy towards Israel amid accusations of Israel’s genocidal intent in Gaza.
This APEC meeting was needed by both sides: it gave Biden the opportunity to fool Western voters into thinking he won a diplomatic victory, it helped him gain some time in an election year to bolster his low ratings, and it gave China a respite from some of the recent tensions over Taiwan as well as the opportunity to confirm to the world’s most important business leaders that China is still a safe bet for them.
Forget what Western media keeps trying to tell us: as China steps into a global leadership position, it may become involved in Middle East negotiations, it may help Ukraine extricate itself from its position, it’s already years ahead on climate goals and now, is sending three more pandas as a sign of friendship to the USA; thanks to APEC, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.