Meetings like Biden-Xi summit may be only way forward for U.S. and China, former Obama advisor says

Biden-Xi summit could address ‘most contentious’ issues: Former Obama official
A summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping could be the only way to find a path forward in the strategic competition between the world’s top two economies, a former White House official said Thursday.

Evan Medeiros, who was former President Barack Obama’s top advisor on Asia-Pacific, said only the top leadership in Beijing can help address the most contentious issues at the heart of the U.S.-China competition.

“There’s really no other approach at this time that has as great a chance of working as that, because of the way the Chinese system is structured, because of how powerful Xi Jinping is, because of how centralized decision-making is,” Medeiros, now a professor in Asian studies at Georgetown University, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

“I think the Biden administration is right to say not that they want to cut out the middlemen, but they want to use that top-level engagement between Biden and Xi to sort of set the overall tone and direction of the relationship,” he added.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi held high-level talks in Zurich, Switzerland on Wednesday. That was their first in-person encounter since a March meeting in Alaska, which kicked off with an unusual public airing of grievances on both sides.

During the talks in Zurich, both sides reached an “agreement in principle” to hold a virtual meeting between Biden and Xi, sources told CNBC’s Kayla Tausche on Wednesday.

Relations between the U.S. and China have remained rocky in the last few years. Both sides have clashed on issues ranging from trade and technology, to human rights and the origins of Covid-19.

If there are some positives that come out of it that’d be great, but this is not a grand thawing of the relationship.
Scott Kennedy
But bilateral tensions are not headed for a “grand thawing” even as the communication between the two countries appeared to be improving, said analysts.

Scott Kennedy of Washington D.C.-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies said the anticipated Biden-Xi virtual summit signals a “limited thaw” in bilateral relations. But it will help to stabilize the U.S.-China competition and avoid accidents, he said.

“If there are some positives that come out of it that’d be great, but this is not a grand thawing of the relationship,” Kennedy, senior advisor and trustee chair in Chinese business and economics at CSIS, “Squawk Box Asia.”

Tensions over Taiwan
Issues discussed at the Zurich meeting between Sullivan and Yang include China’s actions with regards to Taiwan, according to a White House statement.

And Taiwan will “for sure” come up again when Biden and Xi hold their virtual meeting, Kennedy said. The meeting is expected before the end of this year.

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