With the U.S. suffering significant inflation, and with supply chain disruptions identified as one of the causes, expect little pressure on China to address intellectual property theft, currency manipulation, unfair Chinese government support in distorting markets, or disruptive Chinese trade barriers. The bias during the upcoming meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Communist China's President Xi Jinping will be to put a happy face on this relationship. Pictured: Then US Vice President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, then First Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, in Los Angeles on February 17, 2012. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Here is what we likely can expect from the upcoming meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Communist China's President Xi Jinping. Climate change, yes. Human rights, not so much. Throw in a little trade but take out all references to the Wuhan-origin of the coronavirus pandemic. This will be a summit that majors in minors. It will have significance, but only because of what it fails to do rather than what it does.
Expect the press releases coming out from the virtual summit to trumpet the ambiguous agreements that have been made on climate change. We saw the tease of this from the joint press conference just completed by Biden climate czar John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua. It will consist of some diplomat-speak language about how serious the threat of global warming is and how the Chinese Communist Party and the U.S. have agreed to certain actions to confront greenhouse gas emissions, but there will be few specifics. This is all about the Biden Administration trying to save face after the major disappointments coming out of COP26, the global U.N. conference ignored by Russia, China, Mexico and Japan. This was a major snub to Biden, who took a significant part of his cabinet to the conference only to have it ignored by other global leaders who did not care enough to be on the same stage with him.
At the Kerry-Xie press conference, Kerry was asked about the use of slave labor in the production of solar panels. His response was that it was "not my lane." It was reminiscent of the Dutch response when asked why they did not use their leverage on Nord Stream 2, including the participation of Dutch companies in the construction and funding of the pipeline, to exert pressure on Russia to be more forthcoming on the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014. The Russians had blocked the assignment of any blame and accountability. Today the pipeline is nearing completion and the Dutch still have no accountability. It seems that the U.S. is taking the same position. Using slave labor is supposedly a small price to pay when you are saving the planet.
Expect some nice phrases about the lessening of trade tensions. With the U.S. suffering significant inflation, and with supply chain disruptions identified as one of the causes, expect little pressure on China to address intellectual property theft, currency manipulation, unfair Chinese government support in distorting markets, or disruptive Chinese trade barriers. The bias will be to put a happy face on this relationship.
We certainly can hope for Biden to put up a strong position on the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 750,000 Americans are dead, new waves of infection are ravaging parts of Europe, global economies have been eviscerated, and China's actions have been a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. America and the world need answers. China needs to be held accountable. One can only fear where this goes if the U.S. does not confront China. It is unlikely we will see any leadership from Europe on this issue; European leaders seemed determined to forge closer economic ties with China, which will doubtless use these revenues to bulk up its military to "take over the world." It is either Biden or nobody, and nobody seems to have the upper hand. China will have escaped any and all accountability for its actions.
An even worse potential outcome on the COVID-19 pandemic issue may be a gauzy statement along the lines that the pandemic has been severe, and the threat continues on a global basis. As an ongoing threat, the U.S. and China will closely cooperate on addressing the current situation. We will also work together to investigate the roots of the current pandemic but will respect the sovereignty of both countries in the investigation. Even worse, we will form the core of a new global organization to prepare for, confront, and combat any potential future pandemics.
Heaven help us if this is the outcome. The priority of this bilateral virtual summit is to save the sinking Biden presidency. Xi comes in with all the leverage. The best outcome for the Biden administration is that the American people will not recognize that they are simply propping up an administration that has managed to torpedo [such as here, here and here] everything it touches.
Peter Hoekstra was US Ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration. He served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the second district of Michigan and served as Chairman and Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chairman of the Center for Security Policy Board of Advisors.