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Taiwan: the point of tension between China and the United States

Through an online meeting, the two leaders have once again shown their differences on issues in which Taiwan has once again been the protagonist
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China and the United States have once again come face to face, this time virtually. Chinese President Xin Jinping has not left China's borders, not even to attend the Glasgow climate summit, a meeting to which China has objected. Nor has he done so now to meet with US President Joe Biden, at a time when tensions between the two countries are growing.

Hardly any information is available on the conclusions of the new meeting. What is known is that Jinping has referred to Biden as an "old friend", something he did in 2013 when they met face-to-face at a time when the current leaders held lower-ranking posts. 

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Now, however, the leaders of the two superpowers are arguably the most powerful figures on the international stage. Their moves pose new games, new scenarios and, in short, new geopolitical orders to which the rest of the world responds or conforms. Moreover, Xin Jinping currently enjoys almost absolute power in China after the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China reinforced the president's power in "a historic resolution" that put him on a par with such prominent figures in the country's history as Mao Zedong.

Diplomacy often entails dealing with your historical enemies with a certain degree of compromise, and this is what they have tried to do in this meeting. Moving away from the meeting staged in Alaska last March, where reproaches were the protagonists of the conversation, this one has taken up the term "the old friendship" to try to reach common ground.

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Jinping expressed his satisfaction with the new meeting since, according to the president, "China and the United States must improve their communication and cooperation" and indicated his willingness to reach an agreement for "the interests of our two peoples and to respond to the expectations of the international community". 

However, from what they have reported, little is known about the conclusions. It took them three hours to discuss such sensitive issues for both sides as Taiwan, among others. In relation to the Asian island, China has carried out several incursions into Taiwanese airspace, something that has been criticised by the United States.

Xin Jinping's foreign policy is clear in this regard. China claims sovereignty over the island and calls it a "rogue province" that should be unified with the country. For its part, the United States is the main arms exporter and assures that it will continue to supply Taiwan with weapons so that it has sufficient capacity to defend itself against any attack. In addition, Biden reaffirmed the US position of defending Taiwan, as they will not hesitate to defend it against any aggression. This stance has made Biden the first US president to adopt such a position.

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The Chinese leader was undaunted. Whoever meddles in Taiwan-related issues "will end up getting burned", he said, a threat that did not lessen the climate of tension over this issue and makes it the main disagreement. 

First rift between the two giants. There is no common ground on Taiwan and the two countries remain rigid in their stance. On other Asian issues, Biden declared his unease over China's continued human rights violations against the Muslim population of Xinjiang province. He also denounced China's abuses of Hong Kong and its aggressive social and economic policies.

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Silence from Jinping. In the trade framework Jinping reiterated that the US concept of national security was being used as the perfect pretext to "oppress Chinese companies". The distances that already existed between the two remained intact rather than narrowing. The interests of these two "old friends" are very much at odds with each other, and similar in their purpose: to achieve the greatest benefit for each of them in their decisions.

Talks between the two have been few and far between. It is only officially known that Biden and Jinping have spoken on the phone twice since the US president's inauguration. Few calls that do not respond to the work to "build consensus, take active steps and move relations in a positive direction", as Jinping put it. We may have to wait until the pandemic is fully stabilised for the two leaders to meet face-to-face. 

Other issues such as North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, trade and economic relations, as well as climate change, were discussed without reaching clear conclusions. Washington had already warned that "nothing should be expected" from this meeting, and in general terms, this was the case.