Biden Gets a Small Win on Military Ties with China; Economic Plans Suffer ‘Major Setback’

As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of the other 20 economies that make up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meet in San Francisco this week for their annual summit, the biggest headline thus far was the much-anticipated meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 15. It was only the second face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Biden became president in January 2021.

Expectations for the meeting were modest, given how much bilateral relations have deteriorated in recent years. However, the two sides agreed to re-open channels for military-to-military communication, which Beijing severed in August 2022 after then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. Since then, geopolitical tensions over Taiwan have inched closer to hair-trigger levels, with the possibility of collisions and miscalculations in the South China Sea heightening tensions in the region.

Small opening for Canada-China relations?

Canada’s relationship with Beijing has also come under serious strain in recent years. Nevertheless, the small and tentative but potentially significant step toward restoring “traditional diplomacy” between the U.S. and China is something Ottawa will be watching closely. Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly emphasized in a speech on October 30 the importance of Canada embracing “pragmatic diplomacy,” which could help pave the way for resuming more regular contact with Chinese officials despite irritants in the relationship.

The Royal Canadian Navy has deployed three warships to the Indo-Pacific region to participate in bilateral and multilateral exercises with regional militaries and other security partners. In September, one of those ships transited the Taiwan Strait as part of a multilateral effort to safeguard the Strait for commercial and other international passage.

Biden fails to move the ball economically

The other news from San Francisco is what did not happen. Biden hoped to advance discussions of the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) to challenge China’s economic dominance. He was forced to abandon these plans because he lacked sufficient backing from Congressional Democrats. One prominent American trade expert referred to it as a “major setback” for the U.S.

Canada is not currently part of the 14-member IPEF grouping but will get its own shot at regional economic leadership when it becomes chair of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP Commission) in early 2024.