Low expectations as Xi and Biden to hold 'virtual meeting'

Nobody in authority is calling it a "summit" as the leaders of China and the United States are due to converse with each other today in what is being called a "virtual meeting."  Biden's advisers must be worrying, as always, that he can maintain a façade of coherence as he deals with a man far more ruthless and intelligent than he can claim to be on a good day.  Biden's plummeting poll numbers and the consequent unease among the congressional wing of his party weaken his hand even further.

Xi, in contrast, has just cemented his control over the Chinese Communist Party:

Chairman Xi Jinping has declared himself a "historic figure", putting himself on a par with Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong and cementing his control over 1.4 billion people.

Xi has already anointed himself "helmsman", an honorific previously applied only to Chairman Mao. He's entrenched the philosophy of Xi Thought in China's schools, once the sole domain of Mao's Little Red Book.

Now Xi has used the sixth plenum of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to declare himself equally significant to Chinese history as the original founding revolutionary father.

Not only does the declaration help ease himself past the largely formal hurdle and into an unprecedented third five-year term as the nation's General Secretary, but it also cements his position as "helmsman" for life.

YouTube screen grab.


Taiwan is at the center of concern for both nations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to use his first virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden to warn the United States to "step back" on the Taiwan issue, according to Chinese state media editorials printed on Monday.

Xi and Biden are scheduled to meet virtually on Tuesday morning Beijing time — Monday evening in Washington — as friction between the countries persist across a range of issues including trade, technology, Xinjiang and especially Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by China.

An editorial in the English language China Daily on Monday said that it was likely that Xi would impress upon Biden that Beijing is resolved to "realise national reunification in the foreseeable future no matter the cost". (snip)

"In order to reduce the risk of a strategic collision between China and the U.S., the latter must take a step back from the Taiwan question and show its restraint," it wrote.

In a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi warned Washington against sending the wrong signals to Taiwan pro-independence forces.

Neither country wants a war now.  China is in the midst of a huge military buildup and is practicing attacking U.S. aircraft carriers with a mockup vessel used for target practice out in a desert firing range.  Biden and the top Pentagon brass's focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as gay and trans-friendly policies, must convince the Chinese that further decline in American readiness and capabilities lie ahead, so there is no point in launching a war now.

With his son Hunter compromised by financial ties to China, Biden certainly does not want to give Xi cause to expose any dirty laundry.

China's future, however, may not be as bright as the past three decades when it comes to economic performance.  For the moment, the giant Evergrande Group property development conglomerate has dodged insolvency, but the overleveraged financial sector in China still has plenty of risk.  Partly due to disruption from COVID, there is evidence that food production problems are significant.  To a degree that Americans cannot imagine, Chinese people worry about famine and starvation, having a historical background of recurrent mass starvation, as well as the experience of tens of millions of people starving within living memory during the Cultural Revolution.

A missive about stockpiling food from China's Ministry of Commerce sparked panic buying among the public and frenzied online speculation this week.

At first glance, the notice doesn't seem too different from the typical directives the Chinese government has sent in the past stressing the need to shore up supplies.

This one orders local authorities to ensure that their citizens have an "adequate supply" of essentials this winter. It also instructs those governments to keep food costs stable — a point of concern in recent weeks, as extreme weather, energy shortages and Covid-19 restrictions threaten supply.

report late last week indicated that problems continue to accumulate:

A record-breaking snowstorm and severe winds are wreaking havoc in northeastern China. It's snarling traffic, disrupting train and flight services, closing schools, and freezing millions of livestock.

Moreover, recent moves by Xi to rein in private economic activity and force successful businesses to share their gains with others may be spooking future economic investment, risking the goose that has been laying the golden eggs powering China's rise to superpower status.

For the moment, open conflict between the two powers is unlikely.  But grave dangers lie ahead.

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