Chinese President Xi Jinping has invited his US counterpart Joe Biden to take part in his pet global initiative the BRI and expressed his readiness to take part in the Washington-backed multilateral cooperate initiatives.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) initiated by Xi in 2015 in which China is reported to have invested over a USD trillion has been widely criticised by the US, India and other countries as several countries including Sri Lanka and Pakistan, its biggest beneficiaries, reeled under mounting debt burden.
The US, India and many of the EU countries are not part of the BRI.
On the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi in September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with President Biden and other world leaders launched the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC) to connect India, the Middle East and Europe with railways, shipping lines, high-speed data cables and energy pipelines.
In his four-hour-long meeting with Biden on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, termed as “strategic and historic” by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, President Xi did not directly refer to the IMEEC but said, “China is also ready to participate in US proposed multilateral cooperation initiatives”.
On the back foot, as the Chinese economy reeled under a prolonged slowdown with a flight of FDI and supply chains, Xi is on a charm offensive in the US to woo the “good times” of China-US ties back.
His talks with Biden were also seen as an effort to address apprehensions back home that the US and China were headed for a major confrontation.
Briefing the Chinese media on the Xi-Biden talks, Wang, who accompanied Xi, said “the two presidents had an in-depth exchange of views face-to-face. They offered views guiding the most pronounced issues confronting China-US relations, including adopting a correct perception of each other, properly managing differences, and advancing dialogue and cooperation”.
“They had all-round discussions on addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Ukraine crisis, climate change, artificial intelligence and other global challenges,” Wang said.
China is also peeved over the emerging close ties between the US and India.
Xi, 70, however, was blunt in asserting China’s claims over the self-ruled Taiwan.
The Taiwan question remains the most important and most sensitive issue in China-US relations. China takes seriously the positive statements made by the United States in the Bali meeting. “China will realise reunification, and this is unstoppable”, he told Biden.
But at the same time, he called for jointly managing disagreements effectively and respecting each other’s redlines.
“Disagreements should not be a chasm that keeps the two countries apart. Instead, the two sides should look for ways to build bridges to help them walk toward each other. It is important that they appreciate each other’s principles and red lines and refrain from flip-flopping, being provocative, and crossing the lines. They should have more communications, more dialogues and more consultations, and calmly handle their differences as well as accidents,” he said.
China and the US should lead by example, step up coordination and cooperation on international and regional issues and keep their initiatives open to each other, Xi said.
Wang said it is a strategic meeting because Biden invited Xi for a stand-alone meeting, making it different from the bilateral meetings on the sidelines of APEC.
“It is a historic meeting. It is held at a time when the China-US relationship is at a critical stage. The international community needs a stable China-US relationship now more than ever,” Wang said, adding that President Xi is visiting the US after a hiatus of six years.
Biden too placated Xi during their dinner meeting, showing the photo on his phone of the Chinese leader’s visit 38 years ago.
“Do you know this young man?” Biden asked Xi. “Yes, that was me 38 years ago,” replied Xi. The image displayed on Biden’s phone was a photo Xi took in 1985 when he was on his maiden trip to the United States, Xinhua reported.
At that time, Xi, in his early thirties, was a county leader of Zhengding in China’s northern province of Hebei. “You haven’t changed a bit!” said Biden with a chuckle, the report said.