Contentious issues between U.S., China unlikely to be resolved by zoom call

President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold a virtual summit on Monday evening amid rising tensions between the countries.

Allen Carlson is an associate professor of government and expert on U.S.-China relations. He said a flurry of diplomatic pleasantries is unlikely to extend to the three most contentious and intractable issues between the U.S. and China. 

“Many hope the virtual summit will put the two countries on better terms," said Carlson. "Given the emphasis both leaders have placed on this event, it is certain to produce a flurry of diplomatic pleasantries and some expanded cooperative initiatives – particularly on climate change. However, such détente is unlikely to extend to the three most contentious and intractable issues between the U.S. and China. 

“First, on COVID-19, neither leader sees eye-to-eye on the origins of the virus, or the appropriate public health response to the pandemic. Second, on trade, neither Biden nor Xi are inclined to end the fractious trade war begun by former President Donald Trump," said Carlson. 

“Finally, concerning Taiwan, neither seems likely, or able, to back down from their divergent views about the island’s future. Biden must continue to assure Taiwan of America’s support for status quo across the Taiwan Straits (which amounts to a form of de facto independence for the island), while Xi is intent on hastening, what from his view is, its return to China," Carlson said.  

“Tensions on these three issues may be dialed down during the meeting, but it seems highly improbable (even impossible) for them to be resolved. So, while the two leaders will smile at each other on their version of the Zoom call we have all gotten so used to doing over the last two years, they will likely still be mostly frowning at each other when the audio and video is muted,” said Carlson.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping standing at a podium with the US Seal on the front, with Joe Biden behind him and Hilary Clinton to his left dressed in a red pants suit.
Mark Stewart, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Xi giving a speech at the U.S. Department of State in 2012, with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then Vice-President Joe Biden in the background. Seated in the front row is former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.