President Joe Biden faces daunting challenges in building upon his Sept. 9 phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping to reset bilateral ties made toxic by disagreements across the U.S.-China relationship.
Biden’s next steps are bedeviled by domestic constraints on both sides and stark disagreements on the two countries’ “core concerns” ranging from Taiwan, intensifying military activity in the Indo-Pacific, and human rights and rule of law in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
Biden can’t afford to maintain the deepening antipathy between the U.S. and China that has effectively frozen substantive bilateral engagement. That antagonism has reduced U.S.-China talks in the first nine months of Biden’s presidency to rancorous posturing and bureaucratic limbo.
“We’re not on speaking terms, and if you’re not on speaking terms, there’s not very much you can accomplish,” said Chas Freeman, whose half-century of diplomatic experience in China included a stint as President Richard Nixon’s lead interpreter and as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. “The Trump administration initiated a highly disrespectful and deliberately insulting relationship with the Chinese which the Biden administration is continuing because anything else would be domestically challenging politically.”
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