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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The thaw

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“Far from being a dance of the sabers, Xi was simply warming up the temperature that has caused the world to be on edge”

The setting was perfect.

Away from the madding crowd, sheltered in a huge estate in the rolling hills off the California coast called Filoli, the two most powerful leaders of the world met.

Biden broke the ice in a four-hour meeting by greeting Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, a happy birthday.

The Chinese first lady shares the same birthdate as the American president, November 20, although the latter is 20 years older than she is.

No earth-shaking agreements came out of the historic meeting, billed as a tete-a-tete between two estranged friends, with relations between the two superpowers having been strained by worsening trade relations and the status of Taiwan.

Official statements by both sides averred that Taiwan was on the table, where Xi asked Biden to restrict arms sales to the island nation it considers a renegade province. Whether Biden agreed or not was not in the official release.

As it should not, per the rules of diplomacy where unfinished issues are not disclosed.

About the only conclusions seen after the ‘summit’ was an agreement for China to curb production of the ingredients that make fentanyl, and more significantly, that military to military communications would be resumed, one that stopped after the contentious visit of Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan last year.

Both agreed to pick up the phone to prevent the worst, as part of steps to prevent disagreements to turn into irreparable conflict.

Not even climate change, one of the pressing issues where both sides are the world’s worst offenders, was discussed.

The face-off turned into a seemingly cordial thaw in icy relations, although Biden in his press conference afterwards still distastefully referred to Xi as a ‘dictator.’

Even if true, it was a sour note.

Still and all, as Morris Chang, the venerable founder of Taiwan’s giant TSMC, the world’s biggest supplier of microchips and Taiwan’s representative to the APEC summit in San Francisco, said, the Biden-Xi meeting would help reduce tensions in the Asia-Pacific and promote reliable supply chains.

Meanwhile, in another meeting, Japan’s Kishida and China’s Xi committed to a “mutually beneficial relationship,” despite serious national security and economic rifts.

‘Détente,’ the international media described the talks between the two Asian neighbors, whose history has been marred by bloodshed and conflict.

Focus was on improving trade — economics in short, rather than geo-politics.

Xi harped on the need to handle divergent views ‘adequately’ grasping the “flow of current times.” Nice words, but words only.

The Chinese president, successor to Mao in longevity of power, was doing a Maoist ‘one step backwards, two steps forwar,d, with the whole world none the wiser as to when the two steps will be made.

Far from being a dance of the sabers, Xi was simply warming up the temperature that has caused the world to be on edge.

With Ukraine and Russia still at war, with Israel pounding Gaza to rid it of the Hamas terrorists, the human suffering in both theaters of conflict incalculable, China could have upped its pressure on Taiwan, the lynch pin of its conflict with the Western powers and its Asian allies.

Even this writer at one point feared that after the surprise attack on Israel, China might cause tensions in the Taiwan Strait to heat up further, taking advantage of America’s divided attention.

But China did not, and, instead, in the cadence of the Maoist dance, showed diplomatic smiles rather than confrontative stance.

Xi also had a short meeting on the sidelines of the APEC confab with our president, who brought up the plight of our fishermen, the sector most disadvantaged by the WPS conflict, and asked that both Chinese and Filipinos should fish in the same waters without bullying by the superpower.

Whether the PLA and its tentacles would listen, only time will tell.

It is a ‘vamos a ver’ situation, with no concrete assurances made, only cordial smiles.

One could read into the one step back and a future two steps forward of the Chinese leader as a concession to domestic troubles that bedevil China’s economy.

Like the rest of the world, China’s economy is in deflated state, with growth figures drastically down, debts both public and private growing to unsustainable levels, and trade with the rest of the world tapered.

Thus, thaw is better addressed towards frosty relations with rivals in the world stage.

In our next column, we will see how this thaw is playing out in the Taiwan situation.


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