Despite a conciliatory phone call between Biden and Xi, the US and China remain at odds over the South China Sea
The US president does not want the competition to become an open conflict. Xi wants to reset bilateral relations. COVID-19, environment, North Korea and Afghanistan are possible areas of cooperation. The US Navy challenges the Chinese near the Spratly islands, which are the source of a dispute between China and other countries in the region.
Washington (AsiaNews) – Joe Biden wants to ensure that competition between the United States and China does not degenerate into conflict. Xi Jinping wants the United States to bring bilateral relations back on an even keel.
These are the main aspects of this morning’s telephone conversation (Beijing time) between the presidents of the United States and China, the first since last February.
Biden initiated the call as part of his effort “to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC[*],” reads the official statement from the White House.
The Chinese leader instead told his US counterpart that the two countries can cooperate on climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery, as well as major international and regional issues.
Without making it explicit, the last reference is in all likelihood to North Korea’s nuclear programme and the Afghan crisis, which according to the Chinese was caused by the rapid withdrawal of US forces.
On the ground however, the two powers are increasingly confrontational. On Wednesday, the US destroyer USS Benfold sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, near the Spratly Islands, claimed by China.
China’s territorial claims extend to almost the whole South China Sea, a position deemed without basis by an international court and rejected by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and partly by Indonesia, with US support.
Having a US warship sail near Mischief Reef is an open challenge in Beijing.
Chinese authorities recently adopted a regulation requiring foreign vessels to notify them of their entry into waters China claims to be within its jurisdiction.
This was the first phase of the annual Malabar drill, involving the navies of the United States, Japan, Australia and India.
The simulations have become increasingly complex over the years, and clearly target Beijing, which is involved in various confrontations with Washington, Tokyo, Canberra and Delhi. For China, the Quad is a potential “Asian” NATO.
China itself has multiplied military exercises to improve its ability to take islands, operations that could involve the South China Sea and East China Sea, as well as Taiwan.
Since the start of the year, China’s Navy has conducted 20 exercises, up from 13 last year.
[*] PRC, People’s Republic of China.
[†] Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.