Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 18, 2022
As far as anyone could tell, the news out of a meeting between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden this week, their first in-person meetup since Biden became president, was that there was no
new conflict, either military or economic, that there were no drawn swords, not even that much name-calling.
Instead, we got another taste of international diplomacy, respectful but firm differences in approaching world and regional influence — and based on lengthy relations between the leaders. We got promises from both parties to keep talking in a way that might keep things open rather than resorting to violent clashes.
The heat of the rhetoric is being lowered rather than made harsher, as many Biden opponents would have it.
There will be no “love letters” between them, there will be serious disagreements over Taiwan, human rights, even semi-conductor manufacture and covid policy. But even in differing views on the extent of conflict, there were vows to keep disagreements within accepted limits of reversible and addressable diplomacy — prompting each, bolstered by new domestic political backing, to dispatch diplomatic teams to continue the talks.
The two leaders found common ground, as well, in seeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as having crossed well past danger signs and in seeing threats from a rambunctious North Korean nuclear missile program.
The very normality of the session ought to be telling us something about our own cultural divides in the United States, and about the character that is Joe Biden.
In the very week that Donald Trump was histrionic in denouncing Biden for everything from ineffectiveness to political boredom to China caving, here was Biden relatively quietly going about doing his job, skipping across the world to push investment to save the world from climate disaster to courting allies and, in this case, simply outlining straightforwardly to Xi that there are limits to U.S. watchfulness.
What Does It Say About Biden?
We saw the same idea play out this week with Biden’s approach to reports of an explosion just inside Poland’s Ukrainian border. Calmly but determinedly, Biden got the international leaders to switch attentions on a dime and was able to get all to look at intelligence that concluded it had seemed an error involving a defensive weapon rather than an intentional attack by Russia. Again, normalizing international conflict even under duress, should give us confidence that government is doing its job.
What was apparent once again between the lines of the reported statements and meetings is that Biden carries a healthy respect from other world leaders, and that the United States continues to have the single-most influential voice in global affairs.
It was Biden demonstrating his approach as coalition-builder as compared with Trump as America Firster.
The view repeated in the political Right that Biden is too old, too enfeebled, too ineffectual keeps falling to actual achievement in legislation and in keeping U.S. interests foremost overseas. As we saw in the elections, the continuing referendum on Joe Biden is falling short, whether for the excesses of both global and domestic foes or over Biden’s persistence at pursuing a path towards a centrist Left that puts aid to families and a sense of collective purpose above cultural goalposts.
Of course, the worsening military and diplomatic scrapes with China, particularly over Taiwan’s future, are turning into constant threats for the U.S. military, our diplomats and our businesses. The drift of U.S. jobs to China over decades allowed for Chinese domination of selective technological marketplaces for silicon chips, lithium for batteries and for phone manufacture, for example. Chinese state-backed cultural differences have allowed Chinese competition to outmaneuver U.S. businesses with formal investment policies and lax enforcement of currency rules.
Despite the complexities involved, it has been a mainstay of Republican domestic policy that we are too “soft” on China — a view that prompted Donald Trump to impose tariffs and then incorrectly state that China was paying millions of dollars into U.S. tax coffers. The truth has been that his tariffs, which have continued under Biden, have inflated U.S. prices to consumers with no Chinese tariff money going to the U.S. government.
In that light, a U.S.-China summit that could have been incendiary specifically was not, despite whatever tough talks were made.
And that normalcy is something we might just savor for a few moments before politics once again makes international affairs a battleground.