Xi and Biden Talk Past Each Other in Over 2 Hour Phone Call

The Xi-Biden phone call held in the early AM Washington time on July 28 met the Winston Churchill standard of ‘Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war,” but only barely. We’ve embedded both official readouts at the end of the post.

The White House version was not at all forthcoming, a mere 150 words and half of that background. China’s by contrast looks positively expansive. Biden’s staff gave a few more crumbs to the press. From the Financial Times:

The White House said the call lasted for two hours, and the leaders discussed Taiwan, Russia’s war in Ukraine and areas of possible co-operation including climate change, health security and counter-narcotics.

Biden also raised the cases of Americans who have been wrongfully detained and subject to exit bans and other human rights concerns, the senior administration official said.

Neither readout acknowledges discussing the possible Pelosi visit to Taiwan; the White House flack refused to answer the question when asked point blank. However, both sides acknowledged talking about, or perhaps more accurately, around the Taiwan issue.

Despite the length of the call, the readouts give the impression the two sides did not really engage. One problem is what I call from my old days of negotiating as “double brokering”. You always want to have you side set off against someone from the other side who has a similar level of authority. In business negotiations, a principal strenuously avoids interacting with an agent on the other side. If the principal makes a commitment, it’s expected to be binding, while an agent can never commit to anything (or at most only in a limited manner, as pre-authorized) and has to take any proposals back to the people in charge.

National leaders never have complete freedom to act; even autocrats have constituencies or power blocs they have to appease. In the US, it has become clear that the President has limited degrees of freedom on foreign policy matters; the military/intel interests call the shots. Mind you, there are factions so a President can push the needle to a degree; that’s why, for instance, Obama was able to check Clinton’s plans to escalate in Syria. But the flip side is that Presidents who want to improve relations with pet enemies get nowhere. In the Oliver Stone interviews, Putin recounts how he had productive discussions with Bush and they agreed on concrete de-escalation measures. Follow ups were unanswered. Eventually Putin got a written bafflespeak climbdown. That and other examples led Putin to conclude that US presidents are hostage to bureaucratic and commercial interests.

Biden is a visibly very weak president. And it appears that that has enabled the neocons to have an even bigger say over foreign policy than usual.

One assumes Xi has to understand that. Yet the Chinese readout has Xi starting from lofty first principles to contend that the US and China, as leading world powers, have a duty to promote peace, global development, and prosperity. From that, Xi reasons that seeing China as a strategic rival is “misperceiving” US-China relations and misleading the world community.

Who is Xi talking to when he goes on like that? It certainly is not to Biden.

China is an economic rival as well as a commercial partner. Even though they could co-exist without stepping on each other, that’s not how the US wants it. The US has designated China as geopolitical enemy number one (on the days of the week when it is not sending more arms and dough to Ukraine), so this high-minded patter from Xi is talking to a brick wall.

Perhaps instead Xi’s framing is formulaic in China, or simply an effort to create the appearance of common interests when there really aren’t any.

The quasi lecture about principles then shifted to an actual lecture about Taiwan. Xi reminded Biden that the US has affirmed its commitment to the “one China” policy in three recent joint communiques. Some commentators reacted to “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one and the same China.” That of course is implicit in the one China policy, but China was not enforcing that. Xi put Biden on notice that that is no longer the case.

The Xi remark that attracted widespread notice was: “Those who play with fire will perish by it.” Xi did not back down from the not-very-veiled threats from various Chinese officials that China would take action against a Taiwan visit by Pelosi. He also gave a dig about the US looking not agreement capable: “The US should honor the one-China principle and implement the three joint communiqués both in word and in deed.”

The China readout has Biden giving lip service to its formal Taiwan policy:

He [Biden] reiterated that the one-China policy of the US has not changed and will not change, and that the US does not support “Taiwan independence”.

The White House formulation was different:

On Taiwan, President Biden underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

One could take this to mean that “The US supports the current ambiguous status of Taiwan and will oppose measures by China to end that ambiguity.” One could also take it to mean “The US will oppose China acting to perfect its territorial rights with respect to the Taiwan Strait.”

I think both parties understood that was the real message, not matter how well pretenses otherwise were observed.

Pelosi has made Biden look weak, via his failure to put her in place after both the Pentagon and now Jake Sullivan have said they oppose her going to Taiwan. Instead, Biden did the worst possible thing as far as his appearance of authority is concerned: instead going to Xi (remember Biden requested the call) as if that would somehow make a Pelosi visit less of an affront, or worse, to China. Biden should have known that was a non-starter given the unusually aggressive statements from Chinese officials, including, importantly, from the Defense Ministry. And that fierce reaction should have come as no surprise. Moon of Alabama recounts Pelosi’s long history of provoking China.

If Chinese post-meeting press coverage is any guide, China is deadly serious about taking some sort of military action to prevent a Pelosi visit or make an important statement about its right to operate in airspace and waterways Taiwan would like to depict as its own.

And Pelosi has hurt the Democrats. Her little stunt has left them in a no-win position. The Republicans know they have her in a trap. They are taking the position that she backs down, it’s giving in to China. But if she goes and is not permitted to land in Taiwan, or China secures a win, say by flying planes in with hers so as to show that China can and will now overfly Taiwan. the Administration can again be presented as having stuffed up by somehow not out-thinking/out-maneuvering China.

It sure looks like the result that would make the Republicans happiest is having Pelosi start a war. As with Russia, be careful what you wish for. China is just as serious about its red lines as Russia was pre the special military operation.

The reality is that as awkward as this situation looks, Pelosi can continue to keep her mouth shuts and stay in the US. August is about to start. When the pols return to Washington in December, everyone will be fixated on the midterns. And the reality is that the number of Americans who make belligerence towards China a top criterion for choosing Congresscritter is very small. Pelosi backing down (if she actually does so) will be barely remembered in the US by October. But is Pelosi merely a clever tactician, or can she manage to come up with some wisdom and maturity?

00 President Xi Jinping Speaks with US President Joe Biden on the Phone
00 Readout of President Biden’s Call with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China | The White House
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  1. KD

    Historically, the way the CCP negotiates is to start with an attempt to agree on essentially broad principles, and then narrow down to agreements on specific issues. Xi isn’t doing it any different from Deng Xiaping or Zhou Enlai, and it has nothing to do with Biden or the fact that it is evident to the world that he is not the decider when it comes to foreign policy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, but Xi has to know that Biden in fact does not agree with the principle that China is not a rival to the US. This sort of talk is just empty:

      President Xi underscored that to approach and define China-US relations in terms of strategic competition and view China as the primary rival and the most serious long-term challenge would be misperceiving China-US relations and misreading China’s development, and would mislead the people of the two countries and the international community.

      So it appears you are staying that Xi is falling back on traditional modes of negotiating. But Xi’s principle above is false as far as the US is concerned. The neocon reaction would be that China is trying to lull the US into inaction while it continues to undermine the US.

      1. KD

        Its all howlers, all the way down:

        1.) China and the US are not rivals.
        2.) US has a duty to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the world.
        3.) US supports a One-China policy,

        . . . except on Taiwan, maybe if the CCP prostrates itself and agrees to become an American puppet, then maybe we will let them have Taiwan back, but that is probably itself a bait-and-switch as far as the Neo-Cons are concerned.

        A.) The U.S. has a duty to strangle any potential rival in the crib notwithstanding the international damage.
        B.) The U.S. has a duty to promote war, instability and economic chaos to contain its rivals.
        C.) The U.S. supports Taiwan remaining an American vassal and supports unification if China agrees to the same terms.

        1. KD

          The problem is this: Taiwan is the unsinkable aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, and the keystone to control of the First Island Chain in the Pacific. It is not an accident that it was one of the first places seized by the Japanese in 1895 as part of their Imperial Ambitions in East Asia.

          The U.S. will never allow Taiwan to fall into Chinese hands willingly, and certainly not peacefully, because it is better if it goes that it is trashed and poses a high opportunity cost. Peaceful re-unification will never happen because the US would coup any government that tried to seriously re-unify with the Mainland, and if they couldn’t coup, they would do everything in their power to blow it up indirectly. The Deep State isn’t going to let China set up naval bases on the Island of Formosa.

          On the other hand, China is not going to play a chess game where the other side has two pawns in the center of the chess board the whole game. They will never let Taiwan go for the same reasons. They would love to have it happen peacefully, but the Americans will never let that happen.

          So there will be war, and the only question is when, and to whose advantage. Right now, for those lacking access to Hunter’s stash, it doesn’t look good for America based on the wargaming, which is no doubt why the Pentagon is saying ix-nay on the Pelosi trip.

          1. Louis Fyne

            Ukraine war makes blatantly clear how reliant hi-tech war is on logisitics.

            first 24 hours of any Taiwan war, every military fuel depot will be on fire and there will be a PLA Navy blockade of Taiwan.

            After that, the only options that the US has vary from stay out (bad) to fight a war hundreds of miles from the nearest US facility (terminally bad).

            Diplomacy is the only sane way and the US has a bad hand that was self-inflicted over 20 years

          2. KD

            I have been maliciously wondering if China is going to find a provocation and attack Taiwan, and then Russia/China announce an alliance and a war on Uncle Sugar/NATO/White Asia and they mobilize and knock the snot out of NATO and the US Navy, with casualties we haven’t witnessed since Korea.

      2. Col 'Sandy' Volestrangler (ret)

        Possibly Xi wants to be on record defining China’s approach as one of broad engagement and co operation. He’s well aware the carefully built up centralized Mockingbird Media in the west will say otherwise. From Epoch Times (which is obviously a WACL style propaganda outlet) to CNN (the outlet for the anti Trump fanatics-aka the ‘grownups’) So outside of Micheal Hudson, Pepe Escobar, Aaron Mate and a few other outliers, the Amerian media ecosystem is dominated by anti-China messaging.
        So China says “We would prefer to engage constructively’ and let MSNBC hyperventilate about Uighurs or Chinese spy plots. They’re going to do it anyway.

      3. drumlin woodchuckles

        Perhaps Xi wants a wider world audience to hear Xi being reasonable and talking non-threateningly so that if the USGov side responds unreasonably and in a responding threateningly to perceived threats manner . . . the wider world audience will decide that Xi was the reasonable party here.

        It may be part of a very long game of Wei Qi(Go) style brain struggle across the whole world. And since US politicrats and presidents don’t play Wei Qi ( Go ) or even know how, or even know what it is, they are unequal to the demands of playing its equivalent at the level of whole world brain struggle.

        1. Gavin

          Remember the comment about Obama playing “12-dimensional chess”?
          It was always a stupid metaphor because 2-dimensional chess is hard enough [and my money’s on China’s Ding Liren to beat Nepomniatchi to become the next world chess champion], but the not-discussed part of that comment was that the NeoCons who were moving Obama’s hands sincerely have convinced themselves that they’re the only one playing the game.
          How can you be playing chess if your assumption is that there is no allowed other side – and even if there is because we named someone as that other side, they still don’t get to make moves – aka have their own agency and strategy?
          These moves the last 12 months or so from the US foreign policy establishment are like they only have sycophants around who don’t smack the proposer upside the head and tell them they’re making a stupid mistake. Which, if true, is how the bad things start…

          1. The Rev Kev

            @ Gavin – Did you ever hear what Putin had to say about negotiating with Obama? He said-

            ‘”Negotiating with Obama is like playing chess with a pigeon. The pigeon knocks over all the pieces, ***** on the board and then struts around like it won the game.”‘

  2. SocalJimObjects

    Thanks for this. A bit of update regarding Nancy’s trip. Supposedly the Taiwan trip is still “tentative” whatever that means, although the other legs (South Korea, Singapore, Japan, and Malaysia) have been confirmed. Don’t they have to file a flight plan or something?


    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Lordie, she could blame backing down on Putin., using a more elegant version of “We don’t want to piss China off and have them get even more friendly with the evil Rooskies.” That would even have the merit of being true.

      1. Michaelmas

        It would also have the merit of showing actual signs of active intelligence. Not likely to happen then, is it?

  3. Louis Fyne

    Sounds like Xi was also laying the diplomatic groundwork for the NATO+Japan+AU+NZ versus rest-of-the-world schism when the economc sanctions start flying.

    PRC sees what’s happening in Ukraine. The West only has two escalation rungs: economic sanctions that’ll hurt the West more than China and war, while China has many more options.

    between now to 2024, the world could see the a crisis over Taiwan while dealing w/a Ukraine meltdown.

    Not just Xi, every PRC public statement, from its military to its foreign ministry, is in unison, they are giving the absolute clearest signals (just like pre-war Putin) that the US is at the PRC red line.

    1. Michaelmas

      PRC sees what’s happening in Ukraine. The West only has two escalation rungs: economic sanctions that’ll hurt the West more than China and war

      Not that it will stop the US’s moronic ‘policymakers,’ but ‘war’ — US in-theater military action against the PRC over Taiwan — is an even less realistic option — well, short of a nuclear exchange, for one questionable value of ‘realistic’ — than US military action against Russia via Ukraine/NATO has proved to be.

      Very simply, the distance from the US West Coast to Taiwan is 6,732 miles, or 10,834 kilometers. The Chinese may not yet have the military technological superiority over the US that the Russians now have, but the US is absolutely dependent on its orbiting satellite networks for command-and-control and oversight of a battlespace on the other side of the planet, and the Chinese have demonstrated repeatedly that they can knock those satellites down in thirty minutes or so.

      I guess that some US in-theater C-and-C might be possible from US bases in Japan and AU. But how are the Japanese and AU going to like that?

      1. SocalJimObjects

        South Korea? Philippine? And since the US is DELUSIONAL, they will simply assume that the Vietnamese would be fine to tag along whatever insane plan the evil geniuses at Pentagon are currently cooking up.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Is it the Pentagon where the evil geniuses are? Or is it the various civilian-leadership facilities and think tanks and spin mills?

          1. The Rev Kev

            ‘Is it the Pentagon where the evil geniuses are?’

            Nah. They all got replaced over time by mediocre – very mediocre – careerists generals who had their eye on well paying gigs at Raytheon instead of world domination.

      2. scott s.

        You realize INDOPACOM is in Hawaii, not the west coast with subordinate commands in Alaska, South Korea, and Japan.

        1. Michaelmas

          You realize INDOPACOM is in Hawaii … with subordinate commands in Alaska, South Korea, and Japan.

          True. I still don’t see how the US military can operate effectively in any over-the-horizon conflict against the PLA on the other side of the Pacific without its satellite networks.

          ‘Analyzing a More Resilient National Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Capability’, 2021

          ‘The Creation of the PLA Strategic Support Force and Its Implications for Chinese Military Space Operations’, 2017

    2. Susan the other

      It’s humiliating. We find ourselves at the end of our options. Just like they let Joey do it in 2020, now they are saying lets let Nancy do it. Let’s send Nancy to do some ditzy diplomacy that we can deny because she’s a very old warhorse and might be as senile as Joe – we really aren’t responsible for the things she says. All this brings McMasters thesis into the spotlight: Strategic Competition (or cooperative competition for that matter) can’t fly. It’s a non-starter. China’s trading methods are intrinsic to their competitiveness – they don’t (so far) blatantly exploit their trading partners for extra profit. Whereas we can’t survive trading without exploitation of some kind because our manufacturing and lifestyle is so overpriced, etc. Either we do the old neoliberal-neocolonial stuff we have been doing which is mercantilist (and no longer possible in this world) or when that doesn’t cut it we raise interest rates on our “king dollar” and make everybody pay a higher price – we export inflation. We’re past-masters at that shit. Inflating our way to profit. China doesn’t do it that way. So there’s no way for us to “cooperate competitively with China.” It’s an oxymoron. And that means a cascade of change is coming – we are going to have to actually be competitive in our trading; trade on equitable terms by giving every trading partner sovereign status (Putin’s plan). And that in turn means we will be forced to settle for less profit; that means cut backs for capital expenditures; that means more government planning and subsidies and that means we will have to also subsidize society to keep it up and running. It’s a no brainer. We can all get a beer and go out on the porch and watch it happening.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If “we” are so good at making a profit, then why has so much of our industry ( and social stability) disappeared after NAFTA, WTO, MFN for China, etc.?

        Is our lifestyle overpriced? Would you prefer a Haitian lifestyle for Americans? Would that be “right-priced” in your opinion? And if you would, would you be consistent enough to prefer a Haitian lifestyle for yourself as well as for the rest of us?

        Is our production overpriced? In comparison to what?

        We are going to be “competitive” in our “trading”? How does $15/hour labor “compete” with $1.00/hour labor? And when we have environmental costs and a trading “partner” has zero environmental costs because it has zero environmental standards, how do we “compete”?

        If you are a Free Trade hasbarist, you will suggest that America adopt $1.00/hour wages and adopt zero environmental protections and regulations, etc. If you are not a Free Trade hasbarist, then how exactly do you suggest America “compete”?

        And more to the point, why do you suggest America “compete”? If we did not buy anything from any foreigner, then we would not have to sell anything to any foreigner, because we would not need to raise any money from the foreigner at all if we did not have to spend any money on the foreigner at all. That is Protectionism, which is the opposite of Free Trade. And it is not Mercantile Protectionism either. It is self-defensive self-containment Protectionism.

        “Compete” itself is a toxic-masculinity word used by Free Trade extortionists to guilt and humiliate Americans into submitting to Free Trade because to protect ourselves from it would be unmanly and effeminate. I still remember with rage and hate and disgust that vile upper-class spokes-filth Bill Bradley using toxic-masculinity bully language to humiliate “protectionists” as not being “man enough” to be willing to “compete”.

        People who demand that America “compete” in a “world economy” should have all their fingers crushed in a carpenter’s vice, one by one by one, real nice and slow.

        1. Societal Illusions

          Is not competing the result of choice? There is no competition when there are no options. Monopoly is derided for this reason, and the resulting costs to society when it occurs: private gain and public cost and all that.

          Wasn’t a large portion of (perhaps initial) global US economic success due to productivity? I believe Michael Hudson has addressed this idea of societal efficiencies? Wouldn’t we all gladly pay more for something that has more actual value than something cheaper?

        2. Susan the other

          Our lifestyle is overpriced for each one of us. By necessity we are required to own and drive cars – there is relatively little public transportation. We pay high interest rates; we pay more for real estate; we pay more for education; we pay far more for health care; for insurance and a long list of other things. So far we have been able to bring in consumer products cheaply because the dollar has been maintained as a strong currency because we practice all this social austerity – not because we are balancing our trade but because have been the biggest consumer. So all of these expensive costs of living overwhelm our productive/competitive capacity because we must pay living wages (which of course we have never done). And etc.

  4. Ignacio

    This strongly suggests that Pelosi’s interests align with those that want a US-China rupture. Can anybody make a guess on the mechanics in Pelosi’s stance? Whose group(s) of interests is she looking for? What are the ‘real’ and publicly stated interests behind Pelosi’s visit?

    1. SocalJimObjects

      Pelosi is looking out for Pelosi Capital first, second and third. Sure she doesn’t like China, but perhaps one of the reasons behind why she’s been thinking of visiting Taiwan is because old Morris Chang has been remiss in sending his “status report” for a couple of months now or maybe longer than that.

      I mean how is Pelosi Capital supposed to maintain its “competitive advantage” in the markets without some inside intel from the company behind Apple, AMD, etc?

      1. c_heale

        I guess her husband has bought a load of shares in something that will increase in value with her visit!

  5. David

    I wonder about the preparation of the meeting. Since the US was the demandeur, it was up to them to explain why Biden wanted the call and to propose an initial agenda. Normally that agenda would then be worked on by the two sides, so that the conversation would be as productive as possible. Judging from the US readout (and logically, as the demandeur, theirs should have been longer and more complete) that may not have been done. I do hope that the US side didn’t imagine, even for a second, that they were going to be able to lecture the Chinese and put pressure on them.

    These kinds of discussions are not negotiations, and it would be unrealistic to expect anything to be “agreed” that had not already been signed off by both sides at a lower level. Indeed, you don’t want Heads of State taking initiatives or agreeing things on their own.The most you’d get (and judging by the US readout this happened) is agreement to instruct their staffs to have further contacts.

    The real audience for this kind of readout is external: in the Chinese case, it’s the Global South. I suspect that Xi did say these things, but even if he didn’t it doesn’t matter because it’s not the US who are the main audience. The Chinese have been making their position clear to the US for some tie publicly and, I assume, privately as well.

    1. Bugs

      “I do hope that the US side didn’t imagine, even for a second, that they were going to be able to lecture the Chinese and put pressure on them”

      Did you miss the recent in person meetings between US/Chinese foreign ministries? The US has completely lost the plot as far as who and what should be in the diplomatic corps. It’s scandalous. This is Ivy League rot in its most insidious form. The Chinese and Russians seem to be, as it were, taking the rule of law seriously, while the West has become a decadent shadow of itself. I’m ashamed to even live here.

      1. John k

        I sympathize. I’ve heard parts of s. America are viable options. I’ve got 3 grandkids here.
        I think the problem is leaders are not selected or appointed for competence but political orientation. Imo Hillary/Obama selected the heads of agencies/departments, competence was not an objective but, rather, rabid anti Russia/ anti China views were.
        Meanwhile both the legislature and admin are bought and sold by corp interests. Things would have to get much, much worse before the pop can force fundamental change over our well-entrenched owners given that the police are so well-equipped with mil-level crowd control. Then there’s the nat’l guard, the real military, etc.

  6. Cristobal

    Very good Yves. I think you nailed It. Will the coming electoral disaster finally put the last nail on the coffin of the zombie Democratic party? Before there can be a new polítical voice in the US, the dems must be dead and burried. This may do It .

    1. KD

      Cocaine Mitch has said that it is handing China a victory if Pelosi steps down from her trip, this “diplomacy” is bipartisan in the United States. The Neocons probably just need their nuclear war, and then some hunter gatherers eating radioactive cockroaches can replace them eventually.

      1. Glen

        Wall St and American CEOs have been handing China “the victory” for the last twenty years. Pelosi is just pulling a stunt in a career full of stunts. She might have actually tried to do something meaningful about China’s “victory” over the last twenty years, but I’m willing to bet all she did was play the market and profit off of it.

        In all just a completely shameful performance while she has sold America and Americans future for greed and profit.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          She helped create the conditions for that Free Trade (and Chinese) victory against America, by supporting MFN for China, as well as supporting the Free Trade Conspiracy against America more broadly, such as voting for the NAFTA Agreement.

    2. hunkerdown

      The two parties are complementary actors in a closed myth. They both hold up one half of a particular “sky”, a world constructed by compassionate predation, realized through expansionary commerce and competitive subordination. Each party/church recognizes “their democracy” as hallowed hunting ground and defends it as sacred property. For example, Madam Speaker calls for a “strong GOP” when they’re down, the GOP leaks Dobbs when the DNC is down. Both parties/churches conceive the ballot and their respective lines as hallowed battleground to be defended against foreign gods and other trespassers. The place of minor parties is to prove the transcendent nature of the two “real” gods by consistently losing to them in sacred competition. Approval voting is verboten because it opens the realm to “foreign” or “inadequate” gods and fails to engender the “proper” martial feeling of warriors devoted to a singular champion.

      In a more material light, the successful gentrification of the DSA challenges the theory that party organization or partisan feeling are expressions of citizen power, theoretically available to anyone. In fact, partisan politics is, like any “movement” form, dependent on mass psychology, which can be manipulated by anyone with a capacity for grand theater.

  7. nippersdad

    That is quite the climb down for Sullivan since Rome. I wonder if his performance WRT Ukraine has chastened him somewhat.

  8. Pavel

    Considering that Biden makes a complete fool of himself when he speaks for 60 seconds (see yesterday’s “I don’t think we are in a recession” presser) I can’t imagine what he says over a two hour call.

    I wish they had livestreamed it.

    As for Pelosi — someone should tell that woman to stay put in DC. What the hell is she thinking?

    1. Oh

      Biden probably threw out disjointed sentences during the call and Xi was saying “WTF?” and handed the phone to one of his subordinates to make sense of Biden’s word salad.

    2. jobs

      She doesn’t belong in DC, she belongs in prison for insider trading, together with her husband.

  9. Stephen

    Interesting that the Chinese read out on areas to safeguard together with the US is very much focused on practical points such as ridding the world of Covid, coordinating macro economic policies and protecting global energy / food security. The US read out mentions climate change, which the Chinese seem not to, and health security. Both are much broader, less specific and may well be aimed at US audiences; whilst the Chinese may be aiming much more at the Global South.

    The Chinese comment about international law is, I guess too, a clear dig at the rules based order.

    The whole “who rules in the US” question clearly complicates all this too, as Yves indicates. My own main learning in corporate negotiations has been never ever be in a position to make a decision on the spot unrehearsed (even if able to in reality) and the sign of an amateur on the other side was typically anyone who was beating their chest saying that they could. That has always been helpful.

    On the other hand, clearly there does have to be a principal / decision maker on each side who will sign off (and follow through) once the more junior agents have aligned things amongst themselves and with their respective principals. Guess the lack of an obvious principal who will do this is what is driving comments I have seen that question how “agreement capable” the US and broader west really is.

  10. square coats

    I’m sharing my following speculations not because I think they’re correct, as I think they’re definitely flawed, but rather in hopes maybe they’ll spark thoughts for someone else that cohere better to the situation. Or else maybe they’re a total non-starter..

    But in any case, I’m mulling over the idea that stability and predictability is very important in international relations, but the u.s. is showing itself to be unstable and unpredictable (in line with being agreement incapable), so maybe China is trying to take the approach of behaving predictably when having interactions with the u.s. it judges to be inconsequential, so as to minimize the potential for having interactions that should/could be inconsequential become unpredictable and possibly therefore consequential. Basically as part of an overall strategy of trying to ignore the u.s. as much as possible. So with Xi’s conversation with Biden, Xi tried to behave as predictably as he could, stick to bare minimum of red lines, so that the conversation could end with irrelevance, whereas Pelosi threatening to go to Taiwan is something China can’t ignore so it has to take a strong and consequential approach. Basically like China is trying to engage with the u.s. as little as possible so will employ formalities as often as possible.

    Something like that, if that makes sense.

    1. Janie

      Makes sense, in the sense of dealing with a three-year-old. You know, small words stating clearly your position on running into the street, as opposed to the issue of digging up the pansies.

  11. The Rev Kev

    I have the impression that the Chinese read out is for the benefit of the non-western world. That, like the Russians, Xi is trying to establish that he was trying to negotiate some sort of agreement with the US but because of the power structure there, that Biden is basically agreement-incapable. Surely the Chinese must see Lavrov meeting leaders in Africa and Arabia and reaping the benefits of how Russia was able to do this and want to do the same for not only the leaders of Africa and Asia but especially the leaders of the other Asian nations.

  12. Will

    re Biden as a weak president

    This episode of the American Prestige podcast is from back in April, but at the start of the interview (@24min) with Emma Ashford of the Atlantic Council, the host describes IIRC the DC foreign policy think tank blob as the real brains behind US foreign policy. And that in the lead up to the Ukraine war none of the think tanks were focused on this possibility. Ashford does not dispute this framing and instead says that think tanks were scrambling after the shooting started to update their websites with pieces on Russia and Ukraine. Up to that point they’d all been focused on China.

    That, along with with the fact, as pointed out several times on NC, nobody consulted the Fed beforehand on financial sanctions (re SWIFT) against Russia has me wondering if instead of seeing the Blob (singular) as losing it’s mind trying to start a war with Russia and China at the same time, I should actually understand the present situation as different factions of the Blob (Blobettes?) pursuing their own pet projects at the expense of the other.

    In other words, is it reasonable for me to see Pelosi being so focused on visiting Taiwan as:

    (1) an attempt by the China faction to regain the initiative from the Russia faction, and

    (2) Biden being too weak to contain this factional squabbling to an intramural affair.

  13. Anthony G Stegman

    I have another view of Pelosi’s visit to Asia. Speaker Pelosi is getting on in years, plus she faces the real threat of losing her Speaker position come the November elections. This Asia trip may just be her last hurrah of sorts. Adding Taiwan to the trip is just something a narcissist would do. Pelosi likely will remove Taiwan from her itinerary at the last moment. In the meantime, she is loving the attention the tentative trip is generating.

    1. Louis Fyne

      yes, Pelosi is a narcissist who thinks a Taiwan visit by “a strong woman” is sticking it to those Red commies as a last hurrah.

      conceivably (but still very remote) her vanity starts the domino that gets a US carrier sunk.

      Victory for feminism—a woman can stumble into to war just as good as any man!

    2. HotFlash

      So we-all get incinerated so some very old* woman can tick off an item on her bucket list? USA! USA!

      Why can’t we just send her more ice cream?

      * Not really OT. I was recently involved with a dear, dear friend’s (turned out to be) penultimate trip to the hospital. The ER doc wanted to do a dementia workup, turns out there wasn’t time for my friend, but hey, they can test for that? Would that count as FOIA material? I can think of a number of candidates, perhaps we could get a volume discount?

  14. David in Santa Cruz

    First, Pelosi is pitching her home constituency in what is now the 12th District. The district is 21 percent Chinese ethnicity, mostly first and second generation, staunchly anti-communist, and quite politically active. Well over half the voters who actually turn out for elections in her home district care deeply about U.S. China policy.

    Second, when President Xi refers to “those who play with fire” he is not speaking in military terms. He clearly prefaces that statement with a reference to macroeconomic policy, global industrial and supply chains, and energy and food security. Xi is not a fool. His reference is to U.S. “War By Other Means” aka sanctions. The U.S. has food and energy, but can no longer manufacture much of anything.

    As we were warned in 2020: the U.S. will descend into chaos if China cuts-off access to manufactured consumer goods. Food cannot be packaged, energy cannot be distributed, hospitals cannot function, housing cannot be built, without Chinese production. We will die by fire if China imposes trade sanctions on the U.S.

    Neo-con foreign policy is a Death Cult.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Maybe in isolation Xi is not talking about war, but in totality the entire PRC establishment is ready for war and saying it loud and clead.

      Not their first option but they are willing to go tit-for-tat for any US move including a full conventional war.

      The rhetoric is blindingly obvious (in my opinion); the US toes are at the red line. PRC is not f* around.

  15. Andrew Watts

    There’s another interpretation of the White House’s statement and readout which is consistent with longstanding US policy. Both of those statements reiterate to Taiwan specifically that the US wouldn’t support a declaration of independence coming out of Taipei. When a client-state believes they have the unconditional backing of their overlord unnecessary trouble soon follows… like Lithuania.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That may be true, but the Administration is acting like it believes its cover story, that it does not control Congress and is therefore powerless to stop Pelosi. The Chinese do not for a second buy it and I don’t either. As we wrote, there’s a Supreme Court case that allows the Administration to cancel a passport over national security issues. The Pentagon warning gives him justification.

      Biden could haul Pelosi into his office and tell her he’s prepared to do that, and if she wants to fight him in court, the resulting death of the Democratic Party will be on her head. But he lacks the guts.

      1. MichaelC

        My question is who in the Administration is preventing Biden from doing that?
        Gutless Biden isn’t the decider, so who’s really calling the shots here?

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, I do think Biden lacks the guts, plus he probably hasn’t even seriously considered what he could do procedurally to stop Pelosi. He’s all hat, no cattle.

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