Biden and Burns in Double Act to Split Putin and Xi

Biden and Burns’ clunky double act is likely to not impress anyone in Beijing and Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden apparently sought to lower tensions with China this week when he promised Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that Washington was “not seeking a new Cold War” with Beijing.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia. It was their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in January 2021. While Biden was all smiles for a handshake photo-op, Xi looked noticeably reserved, like a guy who was bracing himself as one about to hear loads of bullshit.

After more than three hours of private discussions, the Americans and Western media subsequently tried to spin that both sides had agreed on condemning Russia’s alleged threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. This was the Americans taking license. Xi did not specify Russia, according to the White House readout of the meeting. Both leaders condemned nuclear war and said it should never be fought, a rebuke which applies as much to the United States as anyone else. The Western media, however, tried to spin it as joint condemnation of Russia.

The Chinese side had quite a different take on what was conveyed in the meeting. No wonder that Xi had looked reserved when he greeted Biden earlier.

President Xi was quoted as telling Biden: “A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world… Instead of talking in one way and acting in another, the United States needs to honor its commitments with concrete action.”

This was pretty close to the Chinese president calling out his American counterpart as a bare-faced liar who can’t be trusted in what he says.

After all, Biden has continued the policy of massively arming China’s island province of Taiwan. That is a direct assault on Beijing’s sovereignty and China’s territorial integrity as well as posing a threat to its national security across the 150-km Taiwan Strait.

This American president has said publicly on four occasions that the U.S. would defend Taiwan militarily if the Chinese mainland were to exercise its legal right to use force for bringing the island under full administrative control from Beijing. Those declarations by Biden violate the legally binding One China principle recognized by international law as well as under domestic U.S. laws. At the G20 summit this week, Biden said there was no change in American policy on Taiwan, despite his previous flagrant statements to the contrary.

The Biden administration is planning to station nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in Australia aimed at provoking China as well as supplying Canberra with nuclear submarines as part of a new military coalition in the Asia-Pacific involving the United Kingdom, known as AUKUS.

Washington has also stepped up economic warfare against China with bans on the export of hi-tech semiconductors vital for Chinese industry.

The resumption of U.S. war drills off the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks after a three-year hiatus has sharply escalated tensions with between North and South Korea which poses a destabilizing national security risk for neighboring China.

So, Biden’s talk of “not seeking a new Cold War” with China is contemptible in the face of empirical events and U.S. conduct.

Which brings us to the question: what was Biden trying to achieve in soft-talking to Xi?

It seems the U.S. president was really seeking to split China from Russia.

Biden talked about no Cold War with China. But what about Russia? Seems the United States is full-on about aggravating Moscow. Can a presumed superpower be credibly in a Cold War with one adversary but not with another? That dichotomy doesn’t sound believable. So, what’s going on?

It is significant that Putin did not attend the G20 summit this week. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was deputized to act as Russia’s dignitary for the event. Why Putin did not go to the summit was not clear.

Also significant was a top-level meeting held in Turkey at the same time between the U.S. and Russia’s spy chiefs.

William Burns, the CIA director, met with the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence Sergei Naryshkin in Ankara. The meeting was widely reported in the Western media which is unusual for such back-channel encounters. The impression is that the Biden administration wanted this meeting to be widely reported for the optics and headlines. Western headlines dutifully reported that Burns purportedly “warned Russia against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine”.

The White House’s national security council emphasized that Burns was not engaged in talks to end the conflict in Ukraine.

The heavily reported narrative of “warning Russia against nukes” reinforces the contrived notion that Russia is a pariah state that is threatening to use nuclear weapons, whereas it is Moscow that has repeatedly warned that the war being fueled in Ukraine by the United States and its NATO partners could spiral uncontrollably into a catastrophic confrontation.

Russia has not threatened to use nuclear weapons, has not even mentioned the word, and it has warned of the reckless dangers that the U.S. and NATO are stoking. If anything, it is the United States and its partners who are implicitly threatening the risk of nuclear war. President Vladimir Putin’s warned in September that if Russia’s existential security is threatened by NATO then Moscow reserves “the right to use all means of defense”. That reasonable warning has been cynically distorted to appear like a menacing threat to use nukes by Russia.

It seems that the Burns trip was aimed at further demonizing Russia as a nuclear threat to world security. Meanwhile, Biden was trying to ingratiate himself with Xi as a way to undermine the strong friendship that has developed between Beijing and Moscow, especially under Xi and Putin’s leadership.

Biden’s bid to appease Xi by saying that there is no Cold War intended is a blatant lie that China no doubt can see through as plain as a glass of urine. Biden and Burns’ clunky double act is likely to not impress anyone in Beijing and Moscow.

First published in Strategic Culture Foundation

Finian Cunningham is a former editor and writer for major news media organizations. He has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages Read other articles by Finian.