The timing was important: First, it came on the eve of the Lunar New Year, enabling Biden to show understanding of the importance of cultural gestures in the world’s most important relationship. But the call also followed Biden’s trip to the Pentagon to announce a China task force, as military tensions build between the two powers.
Official media in Beijing played up the call as a show of respect for Xi — underscoring the domestic political dimension of US relations. The Global Times hoped for “more communication channels” than under Donald Trump — a swipe at erratic Twitter diplomacy that damaged US standing in Asia. It also warned that “American elites” who back a tougher stance against China “will bring strategic risks that the US cannot bear” — a comment ringing with Beijing’s self confidence and conviction that the US is weakened.
For domestic and strategic reasons, Biden is carving out a brusque persona when it comes to China. The White House says he told Xi
his priority was America’s wellbeing, and he broached “fundamental concerns” over China’s “coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and increasingly assertive actions” including toward Taiwan. He notably didn’t promise to work towards mutual benefit, but to push the interests of the US and its allies.
Sounds like a tough conversation
. And yet, Biden said Thursday the call lasted two hours. Even accounting for translation, that’s a good chunk of time and it reveals something else important about the call. Hard-headed as it may be, the two men have a relationship. With US and Chinese planes and aircraft carriers at close quarters in the South China Sea, that’s important. Their understanding won’t stop flash points given the intense economic, military and diplomatic competition, but it could prevent a new Cold War from turning hot.
Postcard from Brooklyn
What’s it like to finally be fully vaccinated against Covid-19? Meanwhile spoke with a New Yorker who received his second shot of the Moderna vaccine on Sunday. He requested anonymity for this interview.
“I’m supposed to be high vulnerability and all, but I don’t feel any different. It would seem unfair for me to be really happy about it, and running around with no mask and a big t-shirt saying, ‘I’m vaccinated!’ It’s still recommended for a vaccinated person to wear a mask. And more importantly, just for the sake of politeness, I just don’t want anyone to know so that they don’t feel bad. I’m just gonna keep a low profile.
“To get the first shot I waited for 20 minutes. This time I waited for over two hours, clearly because more people are eligible now. Every once in a while, a group of old people would appear with somebody helping them, and there would be a kind of confused kerfuffle where because there were no signs, it was just one long line, and I heard several confused people saying things like, “He’s really old, does he really have to go to the back of the line?
“We were at a school’s gymnasium in Bushwick, and inside, the tables were set out underneath all these basketball hoops. When I went the first time, there was like six tables. This time there were 50 tables at least. And the vaccinators were holding up numbers when they were free, like Trader Joe’s style. After the shot you’re shuttled into this other room, which in this case was the auditorium, and they don’t let you leave for 30 minutes after your first shot and for 15 minutes after your second shot.
“The whole thing had the same vibe with voting: It’s tangible evidence of you being a component of a diverse society. It’s one of the only times that you are thrust together with other people in a way that is essentially totally random, though obviously it’s still a little bit separated in terms of jobs and age. I always get a surge of positivity when I see society functioning like that, however flawed. You know like, the (registration) system is cumbersome and difficult for people but vaccination is happening. It’s working. And everyone was freezing cold, waiting in line for hours, but everyone was being patient. No one was making a scene.
“I did see some very old people leaving and had an urge to go celebrate with them. However, most of them were huddling along at like a half a mile an hour trying not to slip on the ice, and they weren’t really smiling or anything. I’m sure that they were happy, but on the inside, maybe.”