What is at stake in digital summit meeting between Xi and Biden?

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will speak late tonight (Dutch time) during a – rare – virtual summit meeting. What do both world leaders hope to achieve with this, and how are they facing the other in both countries? Our correspondents Lucas Waagmeester (USA) and Sjoerd den Daas (China) explain it.

USA: all balls in China

Correspondent Lucas Waagmeester explains: โ€œFrom the first day of his presidency, Joe Biden stresses everywhere he goes that America is shifting attention to China. Foreign policy is no longer about the Middle East or Russia. From now on, its all the balls of the complete โ€œdemocratic worldโ€, as Biden calls it, in China.

And that relationship with China is one of โ€œtough competition, but not conflictโ€, according to Biden. He calls intense diplomacy between the two countries essential. Hence this conversation, the third since Biden is president, which, according to the White House, is meant to โ€œorganize the competition with China in a responsible wayโ€.

Apart from these direct conversations, there are continuous meetings between officials from both countries, but they invariably do not yield anything, according to Washington. There sounds frustration that the Chinese never get concrete as long as Xi is not there themselves and that they use the conversations purely for propaganda in their own country.

And that while there are plenty of conflict points that call for attention. The US took another big step in building military forces in the South China Sea last month, by building a deep partnership with Australia. In addition, Biden maintains trade tariffs from the Trump years, with the accusation that China does not comply with trade agreements.

In the field of climate, Biden called it a โ€œbig mistakeโ€ that the Chinese president did not show up at the Glasgow climate summit. โ€œWhat is still contributing to China,โ€ Biden wondered rhetorically. Yet climate could turn into a lubricant in the relationship: both countries agreed to work together in Glasgow to reduce CO2 and methane emissions.

Biden continues to emphasize that he is speaking out โ€œclearly and honestlyโ€ to President Xi. For example, his aversion to Chinas autocratic system, his concerns about human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and the pressure on Taiwan. Thats partly a domestic mantra for Biden, to highlight the style difference with his predecessor Trump. But he also lived up to this promise, during previous meetings.

Because according to Biden, the competition with China is partly a system struggle. โ€œThis is a struggle between democracy and autocracy in the 21st century,โ€ he said shortly after taking office. โ€œWe need to prove that democracy works.โ€ Biden sees this as Americas historic mission: โ€œAs soon as a US President is silent about democracy and human rights, we will lose our legitimacy.โ€

China: we are no longer small to get

Correspondent Sjoerd den Daas continues: โ€œExpectations are low, the contradictions are great on the eve of this first virtual meeting. Talking already seems to be the biggest profit at this stage.

After the two phone calls, the video call with Biden doesnt seem like a big step up the diplomatic ladder at first glance. But party boss and President Xi Jinping has not left the Peoples Republic since January 2020, when corona had just erupted. He also made no exception for the G20 and the subsequent climate summit in Glasgow. A summit should not be called this meeting, but at this stage, image bubbles between the two leaders are the highest achievable.

That there is something to discuss is obvious. It is the Chinese a thorn in the eye that the United States patrols what they see as their backyard, the South China Sea, and carries out military exercises. But the battle focuses mainly around Taiwan as well.

In the past month, a record number of aircraft flew into the Taiwanese air defense zone. In an interview with CNN, the US President pledged to intervene should China start attacking Taiwan. China sees democratic Taiwan as an apostate province, which may have to be forcibly reunited with mainland China.

What Bidens pledges prove worth in the event of a Chinese invasion remains unclear, but in Beijing people are furious. In America, there are concerns about Chinas growing nuclear weapons arsenal, seen by Beijing as a bitter need to counterbalance Washington.

Then there are still human rights violations in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, invariably denied by China. In bilateral talks, Chinese diplomats indicate that these are โ€œinternal affairsโ€. If Washington stops interfering and is willing to cut the trade tariffs previously introduced by Trump,is the most important message Beijing wants to give the Americans.

In certain areas, such as climate, the two manage to find each other cautiously again, it turned out last week. โ€œWe hope that the US wants to work with China and make this meeting a success,โ€ said spokesman Wang Wenbin, who further expressed his hope to bring the relationship โ€œback on trackโ€ of โ€œhealthy and steadyโ€ development. Files such as North Korea and Afghanistan do not allow the two to be around each other, but the interests vary further.

China is no longer small to get, is what China wants to radiate from Xi. It wont soon be diplomatic in the relationship between America and China.โ€

China had mostly turned in for decades, but that time seems to be over. Correspondent Sjoerd den Daas explains why: