by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For President Joe Biden, politics does not stop at the water’s edge — or the edge of the bay, in this case — regarding his highly anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Although the leaders’ top agenda items relate to foreign policy, their highly anticipated sit-down, the first since last spring’s Chinese spy balloon incident, has political repercussions for Biden at home.
For Biden, a successful meeting with Xi means circumventing a foreign policy crisis with China before next year’s elections, according to Council of Foreign Relations China senior fellow Ian Johnson.
“The U.S. already has enough on its plate with the Israel-Hamas conflict and the war in Ukraine,” Johnson told the Washington Examiner. “They don’t need to have a crisis with China in an election year.”
Johnson, echoing other close observers of China, predicted a fentanyl announcement. That would be politically “useful” for Biden in the “heartland,” where there is a “fentanyl plague going on right now,” he said.
The meeting is important for other reasons too, namely that Xi is now in an unprecedented third term as president and many of his contemporaries have been “sidelined” or “retired” as part of “a purge and political instability,” per Johnson.
“This turmoil at the top makes it imperative that the United States get messages directly to the leadership in China,” he said. “The gatekeepers seem to be stronger than ever when Xi’s alone at the top.”
Johnson’s colleague Joshua Kurlantzick, CFR’s Southeast Asia senior fellow, added Xi is also the first Chinese leader to use “China’s great power status” and advocate “constructing, possibly, an alternative world order.”
“China’s facing massive problems but, on the international stage, Xi has led China to be assertive in a way no other leader has since Mao and to push to be essentially an equal to the United States.”