” My old friend. ” When the Chinese president uses such a courteous expression towards his American counterpart, one grasps an intention, more than an attention. In the preamble – intended for the cameras – of their long exchange, Monday November 15 in Washington, Tuesday 16 in Beijing, Xi Jinping and Joe Biden wanted, failing to get closer, to display their pragmatism and their weighting.
Organize the rules of competition between their countries and avoid an open confrontation that would benefit no one: that was the objective of this video interview of almost three and a half hours. On both sides, in recent weeks, clear signals had been sent in this direction, despite occasional bouts of fever in Taiwan. But the formal message must not hide the deep differences on the substance, the subjects of tension and the fields of exacerbated competition.
Two rooms faced each other, with very different sets. In Washington, Joe Biden had taken his place in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, at the end of a table where his closest collaborators for foreign policy had also settled, in particular the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Xi Jinping, for his part, was speaking in a huge room of the People’s Palace in Beijing, in front of a cinema screen where his counterpart appeared. He was surrounded by three diplomats and Liu He, the vice premier in charge of economic affairs. According to a senior White House official, the video conversation was much more dynamic than a simple phone call. The two leaders did not stick to the planned script, went back and forth, challenged each other by quoting each other.
Claiming from the outset « respect mutuel » between the two great powers, the Chinese leader wanted more “Communication and cooperation”. He compared the two countries to gigantic ships, out at sea, smashing waves and seeking to maintain course and speed. Xi Jinping warned about the instrumentalization of Taiwan to contain China’s ambitions: “Anyone who plays with fire will be burned. ” Pour Xi Jinping, “China is patient and in good faith and will do its utmost to achieve peaceful reunification, but if the Taiwanese separatists provoke and cross the red line, we will be forced to take decisive action.” Joe Biden repeated the essential points of American policy towards China: no official recognition of Taiwan; no desire for internal destabilization against the Chinese regime.
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Xi Jinping and Joe Biden try to organize their differences