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Updated Nov 9, 2023, 5:39am EST
politics

What the top China committee Democrat wants from a Biden-Xi meeting

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
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President Joe Biden should press Chinese leader Xi Jinping on human rights issues and China’s “economic aggression” during an upcoming meeting, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. told Semafor in an interview Wednesday.

Krishnamoorthi, who is the top Democrat on the House select committee on China, also urged Biden to work to reestablish military-to-military communications with China, restore the Fulbright student exchange program, and increase commercial flights between both countries.

“I think they should reestablish people-to-people ties,” Krishnamoorthi said. “We want that to once again flourish.”

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Biden and Xi are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco next week. Relations between the U.S. and China have been at a low point, and Biden administration officials have been increasingly meeting with Chinese counterparts in order to manage those tensions and stabilize the situation.

Expectations for the meeting between the two presidents are relatively modest, but there are signs there will be some progress. Axios reported Wednesday that Biden and Xi are planning to announce the restoration of military-to-military communications, which Beijing cut off last year in protest of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The U.S. considers them essential in order to head off accidental conflicts between military ships, aircraft, and personnel.

“I think, at this point, having a meeting is important. I think that we should keep our expectations reasonable but we also want a situation where there are productive next steps,” Krishnamoorthi told Semafor. “If we can do that, I think that would be a step in the right direction, but we also want to see action that backs up whatever is agreed to.”

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China hasn’t officially confirmed Xi’s attendance at the summit, but the White House last month signaled plans for the Biden-Xi meeting in San Francisco.

The meeting comes at a challenging time for the Chinese economy, which will likely shape China’s behavior at the summit. Xi is expected to meet with U.S. business executives at a dinner on the sidelines of APEC, an opportunity for him to assuage concerns among foreign firms about doing business in China.

Krishnamoorthi said he thinks China’s economic situation would weaken Xi’s position heading into the summit, pointing also to China’s declining population and high youth unemployment.

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“When you add all that up, it would seem to me the CCP would want to restore some stability in the region and not pursue the aggressive tact that they have,” Krishnamoorthi said, using an acronym for the Chinese Communist Party.

He also argued that China could play a role in preventing Iran from waging a wider war in the Middle East and convincing Russia to give up on its ambitions in Ukraine, given Beijing’s relations with Tehran and Moscow.

“In both the criminal invasion of Ukraine by Russia as well as Hamas’ attack on Israel, China could possibly play some kind of role to get these actors to potentially change course,” Krishnamoorthi said.

At the same time, the Illinois Democrat urged the Biden administration to be “realistic” about engaging with China and avoid falling into a trap of rosy “wrongheaded assumptions” that he said plagued the U.S. approach to China in the early 2000s.

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Notable

  • A new survey from Morning Consult found that Chinese attitudes about the U.S. have softened over the past six months, while the share of Americans viewing China as an enemy or unfriendly also slightly declined (a result largely driven by changing attitudes among Democrats).
  • The National Zoo’s pandas were sent back to China on Wednesday, with no immediate plans by Beijing to replace them. Michelle Kurilla and Abigail McGowan wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations that the decision signals China is moving away from its “attempted use of soft power in the United States and toward a more aggressive form of diplomacy.”
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