U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, in what many hope is a sign of improving diplomatic relations. But China may be hoping for something more.
China’s economy is struggling after three years of strict Covid-19 restrictions. The past few weeks have been particularly bleak, with investment slowing and exports shrinking. The housing market has taken a hit, and young people are struggling to find jobs, a long-standing and growing problem in the country. Neither China’s rollback of Covid-19 restrictions nor its continued economic stimulus has jump-started its economy.
The meeting between Blinken and Xi could open the door to economic talks between the two countries. Former President Donald Trump imposed steep tariffs on Chinese goods, making it more expensive for U.S. companies to import from China. President Joe Biden not only left those tariffs in place, but he also convinced Congress to provide large subsidies for the U.S.-based production of certain goods, further weakening China’s economy. Other countries also diversified supply chains away from China during the pandemic.
The growing economic and geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China led to a nadir of diplomatic relations between the countries. After months of sky-high tensions between Beijing and Washington—over alleged spy balloons, human rights issues, and even TikTok—both sides seem ready to come to the table. China’s main diplomat for the Western hemisphere, Yang Tao, said Blinken’s visit “marks a new beginning.”
But China did not concede to the U.S.’s main point: improved communication between their militaries. The U.S. considers better military-to-military communication key to avoiding international conflict, particularly over Taiwan. Chinese officials, however, said they are not yet ready to resume contact.
Whatever happens next will prove to be a delicate balancing act for the Biden administration. One of Trump’s most-repeated attacks was accusing Biden of being “soft” on China. This has continued to be a major talking point among Republicans and will no doubt figure heavily during the GOP presidential primary. Biden faces a difficult political task in the coming months: Improve relations with Beijing without damaging his reelection chances.