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Closing Pandora's Box?
The Relationship Between China and the United States
Since the G20 Summit in Bali

Yiyao Wenny Jin, G20 Research Group
January 29, 2023

On the afternoon of 14 November 2022, the leaders of China and the United States met bilaterally in Bali, Indonesia, the day before the G20 summit there began. It marked a historical moment, as President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden met for the first time in person. This meeting took place against the backdrop of the G20 summit, showing the power of G20 as a multilateral forum that keeps communication open for genuine, face-to-face dialogue at the highest level, among the leaders of the world's most powerful states. The platform offered by the G20 has the power to overcome severe geopolitical tensions between the world's largest economies. Through this meeting, the leaders of China and the US signalled to the rest of the world that persistent, personal conversations are necessary and welcome.

Both Xi and Biden entered this meeting with a strong position in their domestic politics, with Xi's third term confirmed by the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Biden's victory in the midterm election in early November. Such an enhanced sense of control advanced both leaders' willingness to converse and fostered their respect for each other.

The most important outcome of the Xi-Biden meeting in Bali was their commitment to "work together to address transnational challenges – such as climate change, global macroeconomics stability including debt relief, health security, and global food security." The two acknowledged that handling issues in their bilateral relations was necessary not only for their citizens but also for the "international community" as a whole. This consensus was a significant step forward, if not a milestone.

At the diplomatic level, Xi and Biden agreed to maintain strategic communications and conduct frequent negotiations. Indeed, high-level communications has increased significantly since, in the form of scheduling visits in person and conducting phone calls from afar.

On 11 and 12 December, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, and Laura Rosenberger, National Security Council Senior Director for China, visited Beijing. They met in Langfang, a city near the capital, with China's Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng for extensive talks aimed at "properly handling important and sensitive issues in bilateral relations including the Taiwan question and strengthening interactions at all levels and cooperation in relevant areas." The US Department of State noted that this visit paved the way for Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's visit to China in early 2023 by "managing the competition" and "explor[ing] potential areas of co-operation."

As the new year began, China appointed Qin Gang, ambassador to the United States, to become its new foreign minister. On the first day of 2023, Ambassador Qin called Secretary Blinken "to bid farewell" and "expressed his hope to continue close working relations with Blinken for a better China-US relationship."

These positive developments show a willingness and tangible efforts to stabilize relations on both sides. This approach at the highest level can help China and the US manoeuvre constructively through episodes of intense geopolitical frictions.

The bilateral meeting in Bali allowed the leaders of these two key countries to seek common ground for the well-being of humanity and actively manage their relationship to help save the world from a new cold war. The G20 under Indonesia's presidency was thus better able to successfully "create conditions" for constructive conversations as the world faces environmental and geopolitical challenges.

The world relies on the G20 presidency to help maintain communication during turbulent times. As seen at Bali, arguments can often arise wherever conversations take place, making agreements on specific goals and the affirmation of multilateralism more valuable than ever. Every country plays an important role in tackling pressing challenges, notably those stemming from climate change, as well as shocks to the economy and public health. The Xi-Biden meeting in Bali might be a step to closing the Pandora's box and preventing endless escalation of tensions and thus keep hope alive.

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