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Episode 88: Joe Biden & Xi Jinping's Virtual Meeting

01 Dec 2021
By Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Dr Darren Lim
Women World Leaders at COP26. Source: Scottish Government

Also discussed in this episode: the speeches made by Peter Dutton and Penny Wong, COP26, and the deployment of Australian troops to Solomon Islands.

This week Allan and Darren open their discussion with the Biden-Xi virtual meeting. It went for a long time, the atmosphere seemed cordial – is this enough for (some) optimism about the trajectory of US-China relations? Allan thinks so, while Darren cannot resist the temptation to offer an IR theory perspective and explain that the game theoretic concept of “deadlock” might best capture the bulk of US-China relations at present.

Next, Allan and Darren analyse two recent speeches from Australian political leaders. To begin, in an interview Defence Minister Peter Dutton described as “inconceivable” that Australia would not support the US in an action to defend Taiwan, doubling down on this position in a speech to the National Press Club. In between, Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong critiqued the Dutton position in a speech at the ANU. What is the logic of Dutton’s explicit language? Does it affect strategic dynamics? While the government is often outspoken about China, ministers also regularly pass up the chance to say more – how is the choice to speak out calculated? Meanwhile, Darren sees a national security politics “minefield” in efforts to critique governments as being too hawkish, but both he and Allan judge that Wong’s speech was able to do it effectively, while introducing several other interesting ideas as well.

The next topic is the COP26 meeting in Glasgow. Allan’s assessment of the outcome is mixed, while Darren focuses on how difficult multilateral negotiations must be, especially because negotiators enter with high ambitions that may never be achieved because of the need for compromise. He thus understands why the conference president Alok Sharma shed tears of disappointment, but understands that a willingness to be disappointed, but nevertheless keep going, is essential.

Finally, Australia is deploying police and troops to Solomon Islands given unfolding unrest. Allan provides the historical context to this decision (the RAMSI mission) while Darren wonders whether the China angle is meaningful.

Relevant links

The White House, Readout of President Biden’s Virtual Meeting with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China, 16 November 2021:

Vincent Ni, “Biden-Xi summit highlights tensions – and desire for cooperation” The Guardian, 16 Nov 2021:

Lily Kuo, “China lauds Biden-Xi summit as start of more equal relationship, despite lack of real progress”, Washington Post, 16 November 2021:

Troy Bramston, “Taiwan defence a must: Dutton”, The Australian, 13 November 2021:

Penny Wong, “Expanding Australia’s Power and Influence: Speech to the National Security College”, Australian National University, Canberra, 23 November 2021:

Peter Dutton, National Press Club Address, Canberra, ACT, 26 November 2021:

Mark Thirlwell, “An initial assessment of COP26’, Australian Institute of Company Directors, 17 November 2021:

“COP26: Alok Sharma fights back tears as Glasgow Climate Pact agreed”, BBC Video, 13 November 2021:

Alexander Downer, “Solomon Islands intervention is always about the China factor”, Australian Financial Review, 28 November 2021:

Ed Cavanough, “Behind the scenes in the Solomons, local leader has leveraged China issue to his advantage”, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 2021:

Tess Newton Cain, “As Australia deploys troops and police, what now for Solomon Islands?”, The Conversation, 26 November 2021:

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“Introducing ‘Plain English with Derek Thompson’” (podcast):