Does the Democratic Senate majority put Biden in a stronger negotiating position with China?

US President Joe Biden is satisfied with the outcome of the midterm elections, as it appears that Democrats will retain control of the Senate thanks to a victory in the state of Nevada. The unexpected success puts Biden in a stronger position to enter into crucial talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he believes. Yet no one is expecting that the meeting will bring much.

Four days after the Midterms, US media reported that Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto defeated her Republican opponent in the swing state of Nevada. As a result, the Democrats retain their majority in the Senate. “I feel good, and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years,” ​ Biden spoke in Phnom Penh, where he is attending a summit on East Asia.

The US president also believes that the unexpected Democratic success in the midterm elections will put him in a stronger position to enter into crucial talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.

When Biden met Xi Jinping a decade ago as vice president under Barack Obama, he still spoke warmly about their encounter. "The trajectory of the relationship is nothing but positive, and it is overwhelmingly in the mutual interest of both our countries," Biden said in 2011 when visiting Beijing to meet the Chinese leader-to-be.

On Monday, the two leaders will meet again on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali. The encounter will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two since Biden took office in 2020. ​

Although there is much to discuss - including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war between Ukraine and Russia, unrest in Taiwan and North Korea, and climate change - expectations are not too high. In such turbulent times, it seems logical that the collective goal should precede the rivalry between the major powers. Yet the US and China continue to disagree on just about everything.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University, said the meeting will not significantly improve bilateral ties. Instead, the purpose of Monday's meeting is mainly to lay a foundation in an attempt to clear the air between the US and China.

Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser on Chinese affairs and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, also noted that the US and China still have a long way to go. “The Chinese believe the US goal is to keep China down so we can contain it. And the US believes China’s goal is to make the world safer for authoritarian states, push the US out of Asia and weaken its alliance system,” he told CNN.

“The Chinese think they’re winning, the Americans think they’re winning, and so they’re willing to bear these costs. And they think the other side is very unlikely to make any significant changes. All of those things reduce the likelihood of significant adjustments,” Kennedy concluded.



© NICOLAS ASFOURI, Nicholas Kamm / AFP


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