11 July 2024

Suddenly, the China-US tension eased a little, sending good vibrations across the world. Just three hours of talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and American President Joe Biden miraculously produced this positive outcome. Of course, there is a long and winding road to be negotiated before ties return to where they were prior to Trump. It might not even be possible, given that the world has since changed markedly. The region wants their friendship to be stable and, most importantly, more predictable.

Just imagine what would be beneficial mutually, as well as for the rest of the international community, if the No. 1 and No. 2 economies were on speaking terms, cooperating on critical global issues, beyond a few topics on which they have both agreed, such as climate change and the global health crisis.

The results of the midterm elections has evidently given Biden more confidence in engaging with the outside world. Just a few days earlier, he was being treated as a lame duck president with another two years to run. Now, it is a different story.

Biden has said all the things he needed to say to please both the audience at home and abroad, especially the “red line”. In return, Xi repeated China’s central message, that there must not be any outside interference its internal affairs, especially on the Taiwan issue. Each side has its own press statements and interpretations of their encounters but, as long as neither makes any outrageous claims, the status quo can be maintained.

The summit suggested that both sides create a joint working group, to maintain communication in times of need. That is one important mechanism. Now, as Jakarta has shown, both superpowers can use ASEAN as another mechanism through which they can meet.

As the ASEAN chair next year, Indonesia can work on Thailand’s proposed idea of an “ASEAN plus Two Forum”. The plan calls for a dialogue.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn