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Opinion: The bigger message from the Biden-Xi meeting

Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a previous CNN producer and correspondent, is a entire world affairs columnist. She is a weekly feeling contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Put up and a columnist for World Politics Assessment. The sights expressed in this commentary are her personal. See extra belief on CNN.


It took two several years after Joe Biden was elected US President right before the leaders of the world’s two most strong nations could at last discuss in particular person, but when Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping last but not least met in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday on the sidelines of the G20 summit, the timing could not have been any superior for the United States, for democracy and for the entire world.

Frida Ghitis

With democracy suddenly looking like it’s on firmer floor and key autocracies going through major problems, it was an ideal second for Biden to discuss frankly to Xi about areas of disagreement amongst the two superpowers although making an attempt to develop safeguards to prevent the rivalry from careening into conflict as the connection has deteriorated to its most tense point out in many years.

Judging by the statements from the White Dwelling and the Chinese federal government, which is specifically what transpired. The two sides talked over resources of disagreement, which include Taiwan’s autonomy, the war in Ukraine and China’s human rights history. And they broached parts of probable cooperation, this sort of as local weather improve, worldwide overall health and financial security.

The talks had been evidently effective. The Chinese named them “thorough, frank, and constructive.” Biden mentioned, “We have been pretty blunt with a single another” but agreed to check out to keep away from a new Cold War. It wasn’t “Kumbaya,” the President mentioned, but the two sides are perhaps much less probably to start out an accidental war from just about every other.

By sheer coincidence, the come upon happened at a pivotal moment.

Biden pointed out that the success of the midterm elections “sent a extremely sturdy concept close to the world” that the US will remain engaged. But there was a greater message. The most important sign to the globe from the midterms is about the wellbeing of America’s democracy. The US elections not only went efficiently and peacefully, but they also dealt a severe blow to lots of of the most antidemocratic features in the region.

A perfectly-working democratic method in the US is probable disappointing to Xi and other autocrats hoping that deep divisions not only keep on to weaken the place from inside but also prove that democracy is chaotic and ineffective, inferior to their autocratic programs, as they like to assert. The midterms brought the American President to the desk with a more powerful hand to play.

A profitable election, and a superior general performance by his occasion, gave Biden, and therefore the US, a stronger existence at the table.

Which is not the only reason, even so, why this was the great second — from the standpoint of the United States and for democracy — for this meeting to take place: There is much more to this geopolitical second than who controls the US Dwelling of Associates and Senate.

After several years of turmoil and panic, there are signals that the democratic planet may just be commencing to reverse the tide of autocracy, or at the very least its most harmful aspects. But it’s way too early to explain to how potent the worldwide democratic thrust will be.

As Biden and Xi were assembly, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky built an psychological, triumphant return to the devastated, now liberated town of Kherson, the a person provincial funds that Russian invaders had conquered.

In a main victory for Ukraine that Zelensky identified as “the commencing of the finish of the war,” Russian forces abandoned Kherson to prevent a battlefield rout. The Western-backed Ukrainians carry on their thriving push from the invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched in February just days right after assembly with Xi in Beijing.

Back again then, on the opening day of the Winter Olympics, Putin and Xi declared the two international locations experienced a friendship with “no limits,” with no “forbidden spots of cooperation.” 20 times afterwards, right after months of denying any intention to invade Ukraine, Russian troops crossed Ukraine’s borders in what they — and a lot of the earth — expected would be a fast operation to conquer the fledgling democracy up coming doorway.

Putin and Xi, the world’s leading autocrats, seemed ascendant, unstoppable even. In the meantime, Western democracies appeared unsettled, roiled by sometimes violent protests from Covid-19 limitations. Putin was getting ready for triumph in Ukraine. Xi was internet hosting the Olympics, basking in consideration, and getting ready to solidify his handle of China.

Putin’s adventure turned to disaster as the Ukrainians defended their country with unexpected tenacity and as Biden rallied allies in a muscular thrust to guidance Ukraine.

By the time Xi and Putin achieved all over again in September, China experienced accomplished minor to help Russia militarily, and Putin admitted that Xi had “concerns and problems” about Ukraine. Far more a short while ago, soon after the Russian President thinly threatened to use nuclear weapons, Xi rebuked him.

The no-boundaries friendship of the “autocracy bros” turned a minor a lot less warm, the anti-democracy entrance a tiny less self-certain.

Tellingly, Putin selected not to show up at the G20 summit in Bali, avoiding confrontations with entire world leaders as he progressively results in being a pariah on the international stage.

To be confident, Biden is not the only chief with a powerful hand. Xi has just secured an unprecedented 3rd expression as China’s leader, and he can now efficiently rule for as long as he needs. He doesn’t have to fret about elections, about a significant push or a vociferous opposition celebration. He is basically the absolute ruler of a mighty nation for quite a few several years to appear.

And yet Xi faces a mountain of daunting problems. The financial system has slowed down so substantially that China is reluctant to expose financial info. China’s Covid-19 vaccine, as soon as a software of global diplomacy, is a disappointment. And partly simply because of that, China is imposing draconian lockdowns as the relaxation of the environment step by step returns to normalcy just after the pandemic.

The Biden-Xi summit came at a fantastic time for the West and not a second far too quickly. China remains a major violator of human legal rights, a risk to Taiwan and a important rival of the United States. But steering clear of a Cold War or a direct, primarily an accidental conflict, is critical.

Also important in the epochal competition concerning the two systems is exhibiting that democracy functions, defeating attempts of autocratic international locations these as China and Russia to discredit it and proving that unprovoked wars of aggression, aimed at suppressing democracy and conquering territory, will not realize success.

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