Xi and Biden pledge to avoid a new Cold War

Xi and Biden pledge to avoid a new Cold War

Plus: Soldiers clash with rebels in the Philippines, Thail crocodile farmers plead their case, and the world population crosses the 8 billion mark

Hi there Intriguer. Russia launched ~100 missiles at Ukraine yesterday, one of which might have hit the Polish border town of Przewodów, killing two. Russia has denied responsibility, while Poland is considering calling a NATO meeting to discuss the incident. Speaking from Bali, President Biden tried to de-escalate the situation by saying it was “unlikely” the missile was fired from within Russia. Whatever the facts turn out to be, there is some solace in the fact that senior US and Russian officials continue to keep lines of communication open.

Today’s briefing is a ~4.8 min read:

  • 🤝 The Xi-Biden meeting: better than nothing.
  • ➕ Plus: Soldiers clash with rebels in the Philippines, Thai crocodile farmers plead their case, and the world population crosses the eight billion mark.

Biden and Xi swear off new Cold War

In brief:

  • The bilateral talks between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 did not yield substantive policy announcements.
  • Still, both sides agreed to pursue cooperation, and the meeting signals that dialogue between China and the West is possible.

“Chinese president meeting Joe Biden”/ Midjourney. PS If you’re wondering why the AI managed to generate Joe Biden but not Xi Jinping, it’s because “Jinping” is a banned term according to the Midjourney bot.

Face to face

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the G20 in Indonesia for their first in-person talks since Biden took office in January 2021.

  • The Twitter-sphere was immediately flooded with geopolitical meteorologists, looking for signs of diplomatic warming or an ever-longer political winter.

📝 Meeting minutes: The bilateral talks lasted over three hours. They covered plenty of topics but made little progress on the thorniest issues:

  1. The two sides agreed to maintain open lines of communication and work to improve management of the relationship.
  2. The US reiterated its support for ‘peace and stability’ across the Taiwan Strait, while China doubled down on its ‘stay out of our business’ message.
  3. The Russo-Ukraine War came up, too: Biden denounced Putin’s nuclear threats, whereas China stated that “major power confrontation must be avoided”.

That the meeting took place at all is a step towards a more functional US-China relationship, and both sides recognised as much:

  • 🇨🇳 According to Xi: “​​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.”
  • 🇺🇸 And the Biden Administration agreed: “the United States and China must work together to address transnational challenges […] because that is what the international community expects.”

The time was right

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping are not strangers – the pair spent time together when they were both vice presidents and have met several times over video calls.

But as we all know only too well, Zoom is no substitute for an in-person chin wag, and each needed domestic political tailwinds to make Monday’s meeting possible.

  • Xi’s appointment to a third term as Chinese President last month has left him virtually unchallenged within the Chinese Communist Party.
  • The Democrats’ surprisingly strong showing in last week’s midterms gave Biden some political cover to dial down the rhetoric on China a little bit, saying at a press conference that he doesn’t believe a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is “imminent” and that “I absolutely believe there need not be a new Cold War.”

The kind of global warming we can get behind

The meeting might be a signal that President Xi will be more open to the world going forward. China expert Richard McGregor said of Xi’s approach at the G20, “There is a change in tone. Even the Chinese might agree [that] the past approach hasn’t worked.”

  • For example, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese became the first Australian leader to meet Xi in six years when the pair had a “warm and constructive” chat on Tuesday.

At the very least, the Xi-Biden meeting seems to have cleared the way for other Western leaders:

  • The French, Spanish, Dutch, and Canadian leaders all had bilateral meetings with President Xi on the sidelines of the G20 yesterday.

What’s next?

We’ll leave you with two quotes from a pair of highly-respected China analysts to sum up where the US-China relationship is at:

“The Xi-Biden was constructive, and it is better they met than did not, but based on conversations in the last day I would caution about getting overly optimistic about yesterday’s meeting.”

Bill Bishop, Sinocism

“Biden-Xi [meeting] resulted in best case scenario: two leaders who want to stabilize relations and grasp at potential areas of cooperation, as limited as these might be for now. But neither side budged on core concerns and we’re likely to see strain for a prolonged period.” 

Derek Grossman, RAND Corporation

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  • Why did private equity professionals pump in $150mm+ to Super Pacs this election cycle?
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Southeast Asia & the Pacific

🇧🇩 Bangladesh

Bangladesh has reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund to secure a $4.5B loan amid mild economic shocks.

  • The country’s finance minister, Mustafa Kamal, described the loan request as a “precautionary measure to ensure that this instability does not escalate into a crisis.”

🇳🇷 Nauru

On Tuesday, Nauruan President Russ Kun visited his Taiwanese counterpart, Tsai Ing-wen, in Taipei.

  • The countries have close ties: Taiwan is one of Nauru’s largest aid donors, and Nauru (population: 11,000) is one of only 12 UN members that recognises the Republic of China (aka Taiwan).

🇵🇭 Philippines

Three Filipino soldiers and five members of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front were killed in clashes on the southern Filipino island of Basilan last week.

  • The clash represents some of the most intense fighting since the government signed a peace accord with the group in 2014.

🇹🇭 Thailand

Siamese crocodile farmers in Thailand are lobbying for looser trade rules in an effort to save the near-extinct species.

  • By relaxing trade restrictions intended to prevent extinction, farmers believe they can undercut poachers in the region and drive them out of business.

🇻🇳 Vietnam

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh welcomed New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Hanoi on Monday to discuss trade relations between their countries.

  • The pair set a goal of $2B in bilateral trade by 2024, up from $1.03B in 2022.

All 8 billion of us

The news: Yesterday, the global population officially crossed the eight billion mark, according to forecasts by the United Nations.

  • China remains the world’s most populous country, but India will overtake its neighbour sometime next year.

Why it matters: At the global level, we’ve never been healthier or lived longer. But population growth comes with challenges.

  • Ageing populations and low fertility rates in developed economies will require creative adjustments if living standards are to be maintained.
  • Plus, most population growth will occur in low-income countries, which will need to continue adjusting to demographic pressures.

No need to panic: For many, the news of a growing population evokes apocalyptic images of empty food stalls and irreversible pollution. But experts caution against such doomsday predictions.

  •  Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, explains:

“While the world’s population is growing, it’s important to note that the rate of growth is slowing down and has been since 1964. In fact, more than 60% of the world’s population already lives in a country experiencing low fertility rates”. 

What’s next? Experts project that the world’s population will continue to grow for the next six decades before plateauing and gently declining sometime around 2080.


Every Wednesday, we select a few questions to answer. Don’t forget to ask your questions here!

  1. 🕊️ Latin American reading

“I enjoy reading news from far away places and would like to know your research sources for South America. My son is considering a 2 year Peace Corps stint in Paraguay next Spring. We know nothing of this region and would like learn more about the economy, culture and primarily security. What sources would you use?” – Tim

  • We use a lot of sources to cover South America, including Spanish-language newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and Twitter lists. I suggest you check out the following easily-accessible sources if you’re interested in Latin America and its security outlook (Latin America Risk Report, Americas Quarterly, MercoPress, InSight Crime, Aula Blog). I also recommend reading the travel advice published by a country you trust, and being an ex-Australian diplomat, I’m duty-bound for life to plug Australia’s excellent Smart Traveller service! Good luck to your son if he does decide to join the Peace Corps! – John

2. 🏥 Russian Foreign Minister taken ill?

What did you guys make of reports that Lavrov was poisoned in Bali? – Sophia

  • Sophia, I assume you’re referring to Bali Governor I Wayan Koster, who said Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was taken to Sanglah Hospital in Bali before the G20 “for a health checkup.” We haven’t seen any speculation that he was poisoned, so we can safely chalk that up to largely fake news, but interestingly Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova denied that Lavrov went to the hospital, calling it “the highest level of fakes.” We have no inside information, so we can’t say either way, but we are glad we got this poolside snap of Lavrov looking unimpressed in a Basquait t-shirt. 🤣 – Helen

3. 🛫 Intrigue travel plans

Is anyone on the team coming to Singapore? Would love to buy you a beer/coffee. I moved here from the US, and this article helps me hold my own during casual political lunch disunions. – Alex

  • Alex, no imminent plans, but Singapore is (sort of) on the way home for the overseas-based Australians in our team! If you drop us an email with your details, we’ll be sure to let you know when we’re passing through and take you up on that pint! – John

to generate Joe Biden but not Xi Jinping, it’s because “Jinping” is a

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