China and the United States seek the right tone to limit the risks of their “fierce competition”

Like his predecessor Donald Trump, Joe Biden calls for the disappearance of the distinction between internal and external policies. Monday, November 15 is a spectacular illustration of this. During a ceremony at the White House, the American president was to sign the law on infrastructure (1,200 billion dollars, or 1,047 billion euros), voted in the House of Representatives. In the evening, he was to meet, by interposed screens, with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. However, the massive investment plan in bridges, roads, ports and airports is in particular justified by Washington’s desire to strengthen its assets, in the great rivalry that is taking place, on all levels, with Beijing.

This meeting with the Chinese leader, which follows a telephone interview between the two men on September 9, was prepared for several weeks by the advisers. No immediate results are expected. But the conversation, which could last several hours, aims to lay the foundations of the bilateral relationship more clearly, without excess of language. In March, the first high-level meeting between the Biden administration and Chinese representatives in Anchorage (Alaska) was eventful. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Yang Jiechi, the head of diplomacy within the Chinese Communist Party, had exchanged sour comments in front of the cameras. The first had expressed the “Deep concerns” from Washington on several sensitive topics, such as Taiwan. “We believe it is important that the United States change its own image and stop promoting its own democracy in the world”, had launched the Chinese representative, in a long introductory speech, insisting on the internal weaknesses of America.

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Since then, in Washington, the expression “Systemic rival” gave way to “Stiff competition”. Behind this semantic shift emerges a desire to define, with China, the parameters of this competition, in order to avoid any misunderstanding or potential escalation. The concentration of power in the hands of Xi Jinping, his refusal to travel abroad during a pandemic, increases this risk of mutual misunderstanding. Conversely, the Americans lack reliable intermediaries to understand, from the inside, an opaque Chinese political system. Hence the importance of direct dialogue between leaders.

Allow convergences

The 11th of November, on the occasion of a video address given at the Lowy Institute in Sydney (Australia), followed by a question-and-answer session, Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, returned at length to American policy in the Indo-Pacific, vis-à-vis China. He rejected the idea of ​​a “New cold war” allegedly inescapable, or a confrontation. “We have a choice, instead, to move forward in what President Biden has called fierce competition,” explained the advisor. Where we will compete vigorously in many areas including economics and technology. Where we will stand in defense of our values. But where we will also recognize that China will be a player in the international system in the near future. She’s here to stay. “

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