Biden has a strong hand to play at his summit with Xi
The surprisingly good showing for President Biden’s party in the midterm elections means Mr. Biden will have the domestic political wind at his back when he meets Monday with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in Bali. Mr. Xi arrives with newly enhanced domestic standing, too, though his comes
from the recent Communist Party congress’s orchestrated approval of his third five-year term in its top position – not a free election. Mr. Biden should not shy away from calling Mr. Xi’s attention to this contrast in what will be their first face-to-face meeting of his presidency. He could suggest that China might want to rewrite some of its propaganda about the dysfunction of U.S. democracy, now that so many participants in a free and fair vote have repudiated pro-Donald Trump Republican election deniers at the ballot box.
Bitter as the just-concluded campaign was, one thing Republicans and Democrats more or less agree on is the need for a more competitive stance toward China, geopolitically and economically. During the campaign, Democrats touted a legislative achievement aimed at thwarting China’s plans to dominate semiconductor manufacturing: the bipartisan Chips and Science Act, which provides tens of billions of dollars for domestic semiconductor manufacturing, on the condition that recipients don’t expand production in China. The bill has tens of billions more for basic research. And the Commerce Department recently announced limits on China’s access to chips and components for supercomputers, many of which Washington believes have applications for weaponry, a significant ratcheting up of the U.S. response to China’s more aggressive military posture toward Taiwan.
We question whether the Chips and Science Act is optimal policy. Research and education should boost competitiveness, but subsidizing selected domestic industries is more China’s style than the United States’. Nevertheless, together with the new restrictions on high-tech exports, these policies enjoy broad domestic support and constitute leverage for Mr. Biden in dealing with Mr. Xi on Monday – and subsequently. Also strengthening the president’s hand is the fact that the United States, though hardly free of inflation or recession risk, seems buoyant relative to the rest of the world, including China. The People’s Republic remains stalled in large part because of Mr. Xi’s own mistaken and disruptive “zero-covid” policy. Beijing announced incremental relaxation of the unpopular measures Friday. But officials gave no hint of unwinding it more broadly; it would be difficult to do so, because the virus has been spreading within China despite draconian measures, while a significant portion of the elderly population remains unvaccinated.
Russia’s surrender of Kherson, a key city in a province of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin had purported to annex six weeks ago, shows how mistaken Mr. Xi was to steer China into a “no limits” relationship with Moscow, or to suppose that a declining West would fail to stand up to territorial aggression.