Three-hour-long meet on sidelines of G20 summit raises hopes that the two global powers can put their differences aside and work together on thorny issues. But it is a long way to normalcy.

The three-hour-long meeting on Monday - held on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali
The three-hour-long meeting on Monday - held on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali (Reuters)

When US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shook hands for their first face-to-face meeting as leaders of the world’s two top economies, there was more than just symbolism in play.

The three-hour-long meeting on Monday - held on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali – came in the backdrop of Beijing-Washington ties nosediving to historic lows over the past several months, sending out hope that the two global powers might have left the worst behind.

Though differences remained over thorny issues like Taiwan and North Korea, pragmatism appeared to have won as the two leaders looked set to prevent the deteriorating relations from turning into a new cold war.

READ MORE: What to expect from the G20 Summit in Bali

After the highly-anticipated meeting, the two Presidents expressed willingness to open lines of communication and mend their relationship, despite simmering differences on human rights, Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, and backing for their respective domestic industries. 

“We’re going to compete vigorously. But I’m not looking for conflict, I’m looking to manage this competition responsibly,” Biden said after his talks with Xi.

‘Baby-steps’

In their opening statements, both Biden and Xi stated that they sought ways to get along despite their differences. The two leaders spent a lot of time together more than ten years ago when they were both vice presidents, and before the negotiations started, both men referred to their close friendship.

Biden’s “reasonable success” in the midterm elections, according to Yu Jie, a senior research fellow on China at the London-based think tank Chatham House, puts him in a better position to direct Washington’s relations with Beijing. 

Furthermore, Yu says Xi’s continued consolidation of power within the Chinese system may provide him more room to engage in diplomacy. “Xi is keen to resume a routinised mechanism and dialogue to steady the bilateral ties with Biden,” Yu was quoted as saying by the non-profit media organisation NPR. 

However, Yu cautions that Monday’s meeting is merely “a baby step” in the right direction. “It will not resolve any substantial grievances both sides have had against each other, but only slowing down the deterioration of their relations.”

The major points of disagreement between the US and China were not discussed during Biden and Xi’s meeting. 

Last month, the US dramatically restricted export of some key semiconductor technologies, apparently intended to impede China’s growth in crucial technological industries, including military upgrading and artificial intelligence.

On Taiwan, Biden said he “did not think there’s any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan”. However, a White House readout stated that the president objected to Beijing’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive” actions in the waters near the self-ruled island, Taiwan.

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, outlined three primary lines that the US needed to abide by for relations to improve last year: Not obstructing China’s development, respecting China’s claims to territories like Taiwan and acknowledging Beijing’s Communist Party rule.

Following the meeting at G20, Biden emphasised in a news conference that the US’s position on Taiwan has not changed. And to add another layer of ambiguity to US diplomacy, he added that Washington’s one-China policy too has not changed.

Source: TRT World