The most important outcome of the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco will probably be that if forced Gov. Gavin Newsom to finally clean up the city. For a few days, people can walk the street without worrying about stepping on human excrement or used needles. Prediction: This will be the most long-lasting and memorable outcome.
Both leaders have every reason to want to meet. Xi has an economy that looks like it dogged-out at a marathon water break. Unemployment is at record highs. The real estate market is a mess. The Chinese leader also has to be troubled that the Beijing brand is down worldwide, while innumerable voices in the U.S. calling are calling for tougher responses on every front. Xi must leap for the channel changer every time he sees Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., who chairs a special committee on China, on television.
Xi relishes great-power competition when he thinks he’s winning. When he’s not, he would prefer the other side take a time-out so China can catch up at the mile marker.
China has little to lose with a strategy that mixes a little wolf-warrior diplomacy threatening, with a dab of pretending to be the injured party, topped with promises made, knowing they won’t be kept.
President Biden has a reason to powwow as well. The White House has settled on a reelection narrative: that the president can manage the relationship — that when it comes to foreign policy, he’s the adult in the room – not those reckless, warmongering, Wile E. Coyote Republicans.
Biden is hoping Xi will play along and toss the White House a geopolitical bone or two. All he really needs is for Beijing to look respectfuL until next November.
There are smoke signals that suggest that Xi is going to play along. For instance, Beijing looks to already have signed off on the two key asks from the Oval Office: nuclear arms-control talks and reestablishment of military-to-military contacts, where the senior leaders of the armed forces of both sides are permitted routine consultations. The White House will sell both of these ideas here as major steps in reducing tensions between the U.S. and China. Don’t bet on it.
China has always rebuffed the idea that they would ever enter into strategic arms talks. Not that they’re really making any concession now.
First of all, the world already knows how the movie ends. It is now open knowledge that China is building a nuclear arsenal that will match or exceed those of either the U.S. or Russia. We already know what they won’t negotiate—stopping that initiative.
Second, nuclear arms-control talks are not nuclear arms control. China can talk — and do nothing. That is their usual method of operation.
Third, China won’t ever be boxed into the “trust but verify” corner. China famously agreed to join the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which it now famously ignores at every turn. An arms treaty would be no different.
Fourth, strategic arms talks that don’t reach a consensus between Washington, Moscow, and Beijing are useless, but no one is going to be negotiating with Russia’s Vladimir Putin anytime soon. So this gimmie from Xi is a nothing-burger.
Military-to-military talks, meanwhile, are a side of nothing fries. Sure, they’re nice to have, but a responsible power would do them because they’re responsible, not as a concession. Further, truth is, when we used to do them, they were always more valuable to the Chinese than the Americans. In the end, it’s a “get,” signifying nothing. If Beijing really wanted to show good faith, they would end all military incursions and threats to Taiwan.
There will also probably nothing sauce and a soothing nothing shake to go with the fries. Biden will blab on and on about global-warming cooperation, but he won’t say a word about China’s ongoing genocide against inconvenient minorities. China will promise to help on the massive exporting of fentanyl to cartels – and then won’t.
Both leaders know exactly what they’re getting. Xi gets some rhetorical breathing space that spares him making hard concessions – like not sending military aid to Russia, cheating on sanctions, or cheerleading for Hamas and Iran. Biden gets to look presidential, if he can manage not to lapse into incoherence or fall down.
Who gets nothing out of this deal? Everyday Americans who won’t see Biden take strong stands that push back on China’s global malicious activity. We’ll just continue to be gaslighted on every issue from inflation to the border, with Biden making promises as empty as most people’s savings accounts.
Even San Franciscans are going to be worse off after the visit when everything goes back to normal — and they’re remined how even the notion of clean streets is just another chimera.