With his country’s economy at its worst in more than four decades, China’s president, Xi Jinping, met last night (early morning this Thursday in Europe) with large American companies and sent a conciliatory message that can be summarized in one sentence: “China does not seek spheres of influence and will not take part in either a cold war or a hot one against nobody”. His words came just six hours after the end of the long bilateral meeting he had held with his American counterpart, Joe Bidenin which, in the purest style of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, both leaders only reached a substantial agreement: talk to each other on the phone when necessary. “If one of us has something that worries him, he will just have to pick up the phone and call the other. That is real progress,” Biden had said at a press conference shortly before.
Xi’s words have probably been received with enthusiasm by some of the American business leaders, who do not hide their sympathy for China’s increasingly authoritarian model, as the richest man in the world, Elon Musk (who has even published an article for the magazine of the body that is in charge of censoring the Internet in China), Mike Bloomberg (former Democratic presidential candidate), Warren Buffett’s ‘number two’, Charlie Mungeror the financial Ray Dalio.
Another thing, however, is for words to be translated into actions. Xi launched that message in San Francisco, together with Silicon Valley, where many internet giants are based that cannot operate in China due to censorship in that country – such as Meta, Alphabet and, paradoxically, Musk’s social network, Twitter – and others that have done so at the cost of bowing to the wishes of Beijing, such as Tesla and Apple, which has even suspended its Airdrop messaging service so that the Chinese cannot criticize their Government. In recent months, Chinese authorities have shown increasing aggressiveness towards Western companies with a presence in the country, which contrasts with the president’s rhetoric.
Before Xi had made those conciliatory statements, Joe Biden had given a press conference in which he explained the three agreements of the four-hour meeting he had held with the Chinese president. The first, that China will control exports to Mexico of chemicals for the manufacture of fentanyl, an opiate one hundred times more powerful than heroin that caused more than 35,000 deaths in the United States last year. The second, a resumption of communications between the Armed forces of both countries, suspended by Beijing since 2022, which reduces the risk that an incident between the two atomic powers ends up triggering something more serious. And the third, a joint working group between Washington and Beijing to examine “risk and security issues related to the Artificial intelligence“, especially with regard to its application in weapons such as drones and atomic bombs.
So, despite Xi’s statements, the summit was reminiscent, in substance and form, of those of the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. The business component is the big difference, since China is a state capitalist system. But reaching an agreement to talk before one of them misses a missile, or having contact about a technology that both are trying to apply as soon as possible to their weapons systems could have been reached fifty years ago by Richard Nixon y Leonid Brezhnev. Even down to the form, the meeting had echoes of the past: the American president gave a press conference; the Chinese, no.