Cooperative co-existence: A desired outcome of Xi-Biden meeting

Shakeel Ahmad Ramay
Monday, Nov 20, 2023

President Xi Jinping visited United States of America at the most critical juncture of history. It is not a statement to highlight or exaggerate the importance of the visit. It is the hard reality.

China-US relationship is going through the most challenging time since the visit of President Nixon to China – the visit which changed the global dynamics. It paved the way for the world to integrate with and embrace China. China opened the doors to the world, and the world opened the doors to China. It also led to reforms in China, and the country is reaping today the benefits of reforms. The visit is termed as the most significant event in recent history. Pakistan played the role of bridge builder and led the course of the first meeting of two great nations.

Unfortunately, China-US relationship started deteriorating in the recent past. Now, the confrontation in multiple fields is quite evident. It is neither a sustainable nor a desired situation. It is a zero-sum game, which neither China, the US, nor world can afford in the long term.

Decoupling is not an option in the highly globalised world, where countries hugely depend on each other through integrated supply chains. Thus, confrontation or decoupling will be equally disastrous for both the parties. Let’s try to understand the implications of decoupling or confrontation through examples. The US has launched a full-fledged technology war on China. It has banned leading technological companies from China. A campaign is also being run against Huawei for many years. It is putting all its efforts into depriving Huawei of its business. Artificial intelligence is a new recruit on this front. The US has politicised and weaponised the AI. It is anticipated militarisation of AI will give new impetus to anti-China rhetoric. It will open new avenues for attacking China and Chinese companies.

The latest report by the US Defence Department is the first concrete attempt on this front. The report has categorically targeted China and mentioned China is deploying artificial intelligence-based machines and AI on the battlefield. Further, the report said China will be enhancing the role of AI in the battlefield. China is indeed modernising its military, and the use of technology is rising. China has significantly invested in modernisation and enhanced the funding for R&D.

There is nothing wrong with this policy or modernisation drive. Every country is doing what it can to upgrade its defence capabilities, and China is no different. The real problem is that the US and its allies think China is progressing well on the AI front. Rather, China is quite ahead of the rest of the world in many fields of AI.

The US and its allies feel threatened and are not able to compete with China at this point in time. So, they opted for a shortcut and started politicising and militarising the AI. They are propagating China is only focused on the military application of technology, not civilian use, which is not true.

On the contrary, the US has deputed intelligence and military to take a lead on technology development. They have been tasked to enhance the capabilities of US companies to compete with Chinese companies. Astonishingly, the military and intelligence will lead the technological development for civilian use.

The CHIP ban is another effort to contain China's progress in the technological field. The US is pursuing its allies to curtail their business in CHIPs with China. The Netherlands had been forced to ban the supply of CHIP-making machines to China. It has negatively impacted the trade balance of the Netherlands with China. The US and West must realise China is the biggest producer of rare earth metals, central to producing CHIPs and many modern technologies.

According to available data, China’s share in global mining of rare earth metals is 60 percent. Moreover, China accounts for 85 percent of processing capacity and over 90 percent of high-strength rare earth permanent magnets manufactured. Now imagine if China bans export of earth metals or other related products, what would be the status of the global CHIP or semiconductor industry? There is no doubt the worldwide market would be in trouble.

Thus, the confrontation or decoupling in the technological field will impact China, and be more disastrous for the US and its allies.

The trade war is another area that had impacted the relationship. The US is imposing a ban on Chinese products and exports. China retaliates by imposing a counter-ban on certain exports of the US. A wider community of experts believes these actions are impacting the welfare of ordinary consumers and the companies.

Instead of looking for peaceful solutions and cooperative co-existence in recent times, efforts have been accelerated either to entangle China in a conflict or create a web of conflicts in its surroundings. The US is busy developing alliances focusing on China, like QUAD, arrangements with the Philippines, the US-India alliance, etc. President Biden’s statement on the Philippines indicates the US is fanning conflict. The Russia-Ukraine crisis is another example. Pre-mature and unplanned withdrawal from Afghanistan also seems to be part of the policy. They are also trying to ignite unrest in Hong Kong or china’s neighbouring countries, like Central Asian States or South Asia.

Against this backdrop, the meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Biden was crucial. There is a general consensus among experts and policymakers the leaders realised confrontation, decoupling or encirclement of China with conflicts and threat of conflict is a real risk to peace and prosperity. It will not only be bad for both the countries, but will also be disastrous for the world. The world is already facing many challenges, including food insecurity, environmental degradation, poverty, low growth, etc. On top of everything, climate change has put the future of humanity and the planet at stake. No country can face the challenge of climate change alone, let alone solve the problem.

They sat down and deliberated on possible ways of cooperation by adhering to a win-win formula. Initial reports suggest both the leaders were able to find common points for work and move forward. It was decided China and the US would reopen the communication lines, and they could talk to each other anytime. They will also open communication between the militaries of both countries. It is a crucial step in the context of prevailing situations and conflicts in certain regions.

The two countries discussed possible options to collaborate in the field of artificial intelligence. They recognised the AI sector needs to be regulated to ensure safe use of AI. They also agreed to enhance cooperation to curb narcotics and trafficking. They will also be working to smoothen the trade and economic linkages.

However, there are certain areas where differences persist. The US does not seem to be ready to end the ban on CHIPs and semiconductor sectors. It is still trying to continue with Taiwan policy and irritate China. Moreover, a statement by President Biden about President Xi is being considered a deliberate attempt to undermine the outcome of the meeting. The statement would prove counterproductive and would not serve the interests of both the countries and the world.

The world at this stage needs cooperation. Cooperation is required to tackle climate change, regulate technology, especially AI, and sustain peace. As the world's biggest economies, China and the US must lead the way in solving the challenges through cooperation.

It is also required to guide the world to prosperity and sustainable peace by finding a formula for cooperative co-existence. China and the US must realise confrontation or decoupling is a mutually-assured destruction formula.