Biden’s selective amnesia in latest talks with Xi

Friday, September 10th, 2021 00:00 |
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and US President Joe Biden (right) spoke on phone. PHOTO/COURTESY

China’s President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday talked again on phone for the second time since the latter was sworn into office.  In terms of content, there was little deviation between the two leaders’ conversation with their first virtual meeting in February.

In keeping with typical U.S. fashion, Biden sustained his accusations against China, while Xi endeavored to search for a middle ground in the two countries relations. According to reports Biden put his partner on the spot on cybersecurity, China’s disputed maritime claims, its oppression of Muslim minorities and potentially the future of its nuclear program. It was the same old same old!

According to official accounts, the conversation did not break new ground simply because Biden evaded tackling the real issues facing the two countries. He did not say what concessions the U.S. was offering, cleverly avoiding getting into specifics and commitment. His broad-brush approach left much to be desired, and forced a guilt trip on his counterpart in his determined strategy of containment.   

Xi kept away from harping on his partner’s weak points or dwelling on the bad blood as a defining factor. Now, if there is anyone between the two who can provoke conflict and confrontation, it is obviously the U.S. whose stock-in-trade comprises misinformation and manipulation. Anyway, it is doubtful whether Biden really believes that his pontifications and “threats” have any impact on China.

Experts are now trying to read between the lines in the two leaders conversation and deciphering the content itself for any leads that would give hints of Biden’s coded messages. But it is emerging that for America’s oft repeated grievances against China, much was left unsaid. And then Biden’s insistence on roping allies in dealings with his rival could indicate lack of confidence, conviction or sincerity in his sentiments.

One major issue that Biden surprisingly avoided talking about was the Wuhan lab leak conspiracy theory that was initially bandied by former president Donald Trump. Honestly, this was a perfect opportunity for Biden to continue with the accusations in the full attention of a world that was all ears. But the baseless allegations now sound hollow and have actually ended up making the U.S. look bad.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and then-Vice President Joe Biden raise their glasses in a toast during a luncheon at the State Department, in Washington, Sept. 25, 2015.  PHOTO/AFP

Biden also steered clear from talking about Afghanistan and how the U.S. plans to clean up the mess that it has left after its departure. This is a special case that should not be lumped up with other broad global or regional issues. Moreover, he should have shown some recognition of the fact that Afghanistan is China’s neighbor, and even promise some level of support to China’s humanitarian efforts to the war torn country.

Biden knows he is in a fix and the continued scapegoating of China has failed to divert Americans’ dissatisfaction with the chaos at home. After the initial upbeat mood following Biden’s assumption to office in January 2020, subsequent polls have shown that Americans have become increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo particularly due to the worsening economy, the government’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic and rising crime.

The foregoing observation was confirmed in the latest CNN poll released on September 10 found that 69 percent of Americans feel things in the US are going badly. According to the survey, Biden's approval rating stands at 52 percent approval to 48 percent disapproval, with the latter rising since April.  

In June this year, 30 U.S. trade groups appealed to Biden to proactively approach China’s government in the simmering trade war between the two countries. The businesses asked Biden to reach out to China and resume negotiations on tariffs and close the Phase One Trade deal of 2020. Clearly, Biden’s administration on one hand and citizens on the other are not on the same page.

Well, that has not happened yet, neither does Biden appear ready to take responsibility for his shortcomings, which is one of the major ills of Americanism. In the Thursday conversation, the U.S. leader did not show any form of conciliation, introspection or remorse. He came out as condescending, giving the impression that he was the agenda setter in the relations.

A proverb from the Swahili people of East Africa says that when two bulls fight, it is the grass that gets hurt. Xi’s sentiments on the importance of amiable relations between the two countries cannot be gainsaid. Some of the grave challenges facing humanity, particularly COVID-19 and climate change, will continue escalating if the U.S. maintains its intransigence.

Biden’s continued obduracy is a defence mechanism to avoid being accountable for failure on key issues. With no coherent plans on many problems, the U.S. is unable to co-operate with its equal in a substantive manner. No one asked the U.S. to save the world, so it should not feel shy to reach out for a helping hand, or even a shoulder to lean on.

The writer is the Executive Director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi based research and development communication think tank.

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