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Of Dragons and Eagles: A Short Analysis of the Xi-Biden Summit

By J.S.Bennett – BSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics

In a fraught geopolitical landscape, cooperation and dialogue often prove to be the vanguards of peace itself; in this regard, it can be said that the world breathed a collective sigh of relief on the 15th of November, following the meeting of presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden. The summit, spearheaded by the American, hoped to tackle issues ranging from cross-military communication, drug control and climate change. It seemed initially to be rather successful. Communication between the US Military and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been restored, commercial ties reaffirmed and climate goals reiterated, despite this, less than 24 hours could pass without incident.

At a press conference on the 16th, Biden publicly doubled down on his description of Xi as a ‘dictator’, much to the chagrin of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, visibility cringing at the remark. It seemed an utterly nonsensical diplomatic and economic faux pas; the two nations, unrivalled in both magnitude and scale of productive output by historical metrics, are emerging jointly from recession. Chinese factories have begun to roar back into full-scale production and disposable income flows back into the pockets of Americans, it seems only natural that the workshop and market of the world would once again collaborate in a co-beneficial working relationship, yet Biden’s antagonistic assertions do nothing to facilitate this. Much popular discourse has labelled the incident as just another case of ‘old-man Biden’s’ ineptitude or continuation of a confused American foreign policy, but perhaps it would be best to understand the unexpected abjuration through the twofold lens of far-right domestic pressure and legitimisation of geopolitical concerns in the US.

“The domestic right has painted the PRC as the antithesis to their conception of ‘America’, they face an unprecedented of freedom and autocracy, capitalism and communism and a clash of ‘civilisation’ vs ‘the swarthy hordes’, if this sounds familiar, yes, it is the same narrative pushed during the cold war.”

While there is a clear mutual benefit to be gained from the extension of friendly US-China relations, it is very dangerous for a US president, let alone Biden, to draw closer to China in a political sense. The domestic right has painted the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the antithesis to their conception of ‘America’, in this worldview they face an unprecedented clash of freedom and autocracy, capitalism and communism and of ‘civilisation’ vs ‘the swarthy hordes’; if this sounds familiar, yes, it is the same narrative pushed during the Cold War. This was the rhetoric utilised by Trump, providing the ideological foundations for a trade war, erosion of diplomatic ties and potential nuclear conflict; he promised “fire and fury” to close Chinese neighbour North Korea. Biden, ironically the archetypal neoliberal politician, has been labelled as a ‘Socialist’ or ‘Communist’ for his perceived willingness to even entertain the normalisation of US-China relations and support of the Inflation Reduction Act, state-led financial stimuli into the sputtering economy, which helped to maintain capitalist production, not destroy it, as the far right and associated libertarian groups would assert.

For these reasons, an incentive for the diplomatic drawback begins to materialise; if Biden is seen as drawing too close to China it would seem to substantiate the claims of these groups, potentially pulling centrist and moderate-right democrats and the ten per cent undecided to the Trump vote. This is particularly poignant in the context of the 2024 election, in which opinion polls project a near deadlock at 45 per cent per candidate, only broken by undecided and swing voters. While never an egalitarian, the Trump campaign has become ever more overtly anti-democratic since its defeat in 2020, openly embracing theories of vote rigging and institutional conspiracy to defraud ‘the American people’ (a.k.a Trump voters). Much of this sentiment has coalesced into what is known as ‘Project 2025’, a plan endorsed by over 75 conservative groups and led by the extremist Heritage Foundation, proposing a total reorganisation of government through the installation of Trumpist allies at all levels of administration and legislation as well as the subsequent transformation of society. The quasi-dictatorship will erase all mentions of non-heteronormative sexuality, gender identity and ‘woke’ ideology, sanctioned and supported by the repressive power of the largest military on planet Earth. This is strikingly similar to the ‘Gleichschaltung’ of the Nazi Party, the process of establishing totalitarian rule over Germany through an institutional takeover with support from armed thugs. Most worrisome, it is popular among some disgruntled voters. Biden is thus extremely careful to prevent potential voter transplants to the right, making the incorporation – in some manner – of the ‘America First’ foreign policy dogma essential to 2024 campaign plans, rationalising the diplomatic movement away from China. 

Backpedalling away from closer ties also allows Biden to legitimate geopolitical interests in both the Russian-Ukrainian ‘long war’ and the conflict in Gaza to which America and China are strategically opposed. China has maintained and expanded already extensive trade links with Russia throughout the war, while America is the largest international contributor to the Ukrainian fight – China has called for an unconditional ceasefire in Gaza and the US has plied the Israelis with billions in fighting cash. Support for Ukraine and Israel remains particularly high amongst the more conservative older and middle-aged voters, the key target groups for Biden in 2024; from a strategic point of view, the more liberal younger generation, more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, would never even consider a Trump vote, thus rendering them strategically unimportant. Maintaining China as an adversary, not a partner, allows Biden to legitimise support for vote-winning rhetoric regarding Israel and Ukraine.

The Xi-Biden summit, its limited success and damaging aftermath, demonstrates the buckling centre of US politics; conflict rages between the orthodox approach to friendly US-China relations, and the concerningly belligerent tone taken by the radical right on foreign policy and society as a whole in America. This issue demonstrates the real success of the right in the so-called culture war, even associating with entities and international partners nominally left-of-centre is political suicide despite rational economic and diplomatic goals. Future US-China relations look uncertain if current trends are to be heeded.

Photo Caption: Biden and Xi Jinping in San Fransico (Credit: Rawpixel)

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