[Éditorial de Guy Taillefer] Cold War Conflict Management 2.0

We expected no less from the summit meeting that Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping had on Monday in Bali, their first non-virtual face-to-face to be held since the arrival of the American president in power. Summit all in politeness and more or less muffled reproaches, in accordance with the rule that prevails in the colorless world of great diplomacy. While civilly sticking to their guns on Ukraine and Taiwan, and thus blowing hot and cold, the two men publicly agreed to « manage the differences » in order « to prevent the competition from becoming turns into conflict”, to use the words of the American. Similar calming remarks from Mr. Xi. Recognizing that, if there is Cold War 2.0, the United States and China today have economies that are too interconnected to risk letting their relationship deteriorate out of control. May they never lose sight of it, as the fate of much of the planet depends on their calculations.

One could even say that the three-hour meeting produced some results, however tenuous, on the eve of the opening, in Bali, of a G20 summit where the war in Ukraine will inevitably be on everyone’s mind — important if the issue is not on the agenda and Vladimir Putin has decided not to make the trip. In view of Beijing’s active support for Moscow and their anti-Western convergence, it is not diplomatically insignificant that, according to the American press release, Mr. Xi expressed his opposition « to the use or threat of the use of arms nuclear weapons in Ukraine”. Oblique way of letting Mr. Putin know that he is going too far. Who does this reassure, however, when kyiv, driving Russian troops out of the city of Kherson, has just subjected Moscow to a huge military and political setback?

More promising is the fact that the two men have decided to relaunch collaboration between the two countries in the fight against global warming. Bilateral discussions essential, as the United States and China are the two main emitters of greenhouse gases. The negotiations were broken off by Beijing last August in response to the visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives. The news of their recovery was applauded, 10,000 km away, in Sharm el-Sheikh, where COP27 is taking place. Good news, indeed, although in Egypt as in China, let us underline it, the dictatorship commits the error of thinking that the ecological transition will be able to make the economy of the respect of the rights of the person.

For the rest, who says « conflict management » says that they remain intact and that the rivalry will grow. This is all the more true in the immediate future as Joe Biden arrived in Bali perked up by the Democratic performance in the midterm elections. And that Xi Jinping, although burdened by a COVID-19 pandemic which he is struggling to curb, presents himself there with a historic third presidential term ratified in October by the authorities of the Communist Party. Moreover, the display of goodwill displayed in Bali does not erase the fact that, according to the American Defense, China “will remain our most important strategic competitor for the next decades”. Nor that, for his part, Mr. Xi likes to repeat that his enemies, read the United States, seek to “blackmail, contain and block China”.

Concurrently with the question of Taiwan, around which one and the other draw « red lines », it is clear that with the recent American decision to restrict the export to China of high-end semiconductors , the Sino-American confrontation is reduced to an economic war where the defense of human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang is an issue raised for the gallery.

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It is in this heavy context that the G20 summit in Indonesia is being held on Tuesday and Wednesday – and in the presence of Justin Trudeau. Heavy with tensions, since its members, and not only China and the United States, are divided in the face of Russian aggression. Heavy with challenges, since the agreement between kyiv and Moscow will expire next Saturday, sealed in July under the aegis of the UN and Turkey in order to allow Ukraine to export its cereals by the black Sea.

The situation presents at the G20, beyond all its tension, an imperative of cohesion and responsibility, while, said World Food Program director David Beasley, “we are facing the worst food and humanitarian crisis since World War II,” due to conflict and drought. To G20 countries and COP27 participants, he says, “No need to talk a lot. We must act now. The statement could hardly be clearer.

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