Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, in a bid to ease a recent flare-up in tensions, but what was apparent from their meeting was how divided the two sides are in viewing the future of global security.
Before they shook hands at Bali on Tuesday, the last time Xi Jinping and Joe Biden met in-person was in 2017. Biden was yet to become the US president and the world hadn’t heard of Covid.
No wonder that the Chinese president put the meeting – held on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali – in perspective when he said, “The world has come to a crossroad… (where) humanity is faced with unprecedented challenges.”
But the two were also aware of the fact that the world was looking at the leadership of the two countries to “address global challenges”.
This is important, especially since the meeting was taking place in the background of many crises engulfing the world, and in some cases involving the two countries as well.
The military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, that has put the US and the West on the edge, is one.
The US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, much to the dismay and anger of Beijing, is another. On the economic front, the US and China have also been embroiled in a chip war, which is threatening to turn ugly.
But it is China’s attempts at a new global security order, which it calls the Global Security Initiative or GSI, that security analysts say has the potential of putting the two powers at odds.
Beijing has in the past compared the US-led security order with “bloc politics” and referred to it as “Cold War mentality”.
In contrast and as an alternative to the west, what China offers through its GSI – which was first rolled out by Jinping at the Boao Forum for Asia in April this year – is a “Chinese vision for global security”.
Today, I met with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China.— President Biden (@POTUS) November 14, 2022
We discussed our responsibility to prevent the competition between our countries from veering into conflict and finding ways to work together on shared challenges that affect the international community. pic.twitter.com/ufneHdcyCF
China’s GSI isn’t much different to what the country already advocates through its foreign policy.
The United States Institute of Peace describes the GSI as resting on “six commitments” at its core.
Those would be “maintaining common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security; respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; respecting the purposes and principles of the UN charter; peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries; maintaining security in traditional and non-traditional domains; and, upholding indivisible security”.
The US sees these as a challenge.
Putting five commitments aside, it is the “indivisible security” aspect that could potentially be a point of concern, especially after Russian President Vladimir Putin made use of it as he mounted a military offensive on Ukraine, citing a threat to Russia’s security with NATO’s eastward expansion close to its borders.
However, the term indivisible security came to the fore much earlier than China’s GSI, most prominently in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, referring to the idea that “no country should pursue its own security at the expense of another”.
While GSI’s effectiveness remains up for debate, the US is being advised to not take it lightly.
The USIP, founded in 1984 by the US Congress to promote conflict resolution, says “if the GSI is a salvo in an emerging battle over global security leadership, the United States needs to up its game”.
“The United States must strengthen its own standing as a source of peace and stability by expanding its own global partnerships and seeking and supporting peaceful solutions to security crises and conflicts around the world,” it adds.
Biden was aware of these challenges and perhaps this is why after his three-hour meeting with Xi, he said he had an “open and candid” meeting with his Chinese counterpart on matters they often disagree with.
“He was clear, and I was clear that we will defend American interests and values, promote universal human rights and stand up for the international order and work in lockstep with our allies and partners,” the US president said.
“We’re going to compete vigorously but I’m not looking for conflict.”
Xi, too, had a measured response, something that will be analysed and interpreted by many in many different ways.
“History is the best textbook,” he said. “So we should take history as a mirror and let it guide the future.”