Crossed fingers but low hopes

Editorial | Mary Ma 15 Nov 2021

President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Joe Biden will meet today online.

Both leaders have plenty of hot issues to address.

To name just some: trade tariffs on US$300 billion worth of goods from China, a visa ban on Chinese Communist Party members and restrictions on mainland students, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

This is the third virtual engagement between the two leaders this year.

The last was held in September during which Biden mentioned a wish to talk to Xi again.

Today's virtual meeting was finalized when US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi met in Zurich last month.

It would be imprudent to hold any high expectations for this virtual meeting since it is unlikely there will be any major immediate breakthrough, even though both sides are not short of tough issues to address.

However, the world must be holding its breath as it waits to hear what both sides might have to state afterwards, hoping to see at least some progress to prevent the two nuclear powers from slipping into a new cold war or even hot military conflicts.

It is in nobody's interest to see such dire scenarios occur.

So how will the course of events unfold from this point onward?

No one can answer this with any degree of precision - not even the two leaders until after they finish their direct conversation, albeit with the help of simultaneous interpreters.

That being said, there were a few pre-summit episodes to be noted. Most notable was a comment made by Sullivan during an interview with the pro-Democrat CNN network that the Biden administration did not seek to transform the Chinese system fundamentally.

Sullivan's remark reversed a key Donald Trump policy to segregate the Chinese Communist Party from the Chinese people with a view to undermining its dictatorship as enshrined in China's constitution.

Sullivan's comment was timed as the Chinese Communist Party held its sixth plenary session to emphasize Xi's position in the party's history.

Biden will enter the summit with the expectation that Xi will stay in power for more years after his current term ends in 2022.

Then, in Biden's backyard, there was the scary 6.2 percent inflation rate in October, the highest in 30 years. The political impact of this could be as devastating as the Democrats' loss to Republicans in recent elections in the state of Virginia.

Rising inflation puts pressure on Biden to keep American consumers happy before the mid-term elections next year.

Could US trade representative Katherine Tai's expression of the need to look at a bigger picture when fielding a media question on tariffs be indicative of a pending shift in Biden's trade policy towards China?

Until anything actually happens, this remains speculative.

When sorties of jet fighters and bombers have become a common sight on the radar monitoring Taiwan's airspace, any sign of easing in tension can spur a rally in the stock market.

Keep fingers crossed.

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