Commercial truck driver Casey Benson knows container ships are stuck off the U.S. west coast. He worries that the port in his hometown of Oakland, California, cannot find enough workers to move goods on and off the ships.
Benson, 47, hopes U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, who chatted for the first time Monday night in a virtual meeting, can someday get cargo flowing again despite a trade dispute that has raised tariffs on $550 billion worth of shipments.
“I just hope something is really resolved,” he told VOA while exercising along a bayside promenade.
Spirit of cooperation
Benson, along with other Americans that VOA canvassed about the summit, are in favor of cooperation between the two countries.
Biden pushed for reducing the risk of conflict in the competition between China and the U.S. and called out Xi on key issues such as human rights, while Xi defended China’s sovereignty.
Americans, including Chinese immigrants, wanted the two leaders to set a foundation for later deals that could improve livelihoods in either country.
“The most pressing problem is to give everyone a win-win,” said Zhang Jingyou, a 78-year-old retired doctor who moved to Oakland from Guangzhou in 1998. “A joint win would be for the best. Let everyone develop. Don’t spend so much on wars and arms. Use the money for construction. Fix the roads. Let everyone’s lives improve a little.”
The United States should seek help, said Nick Yale, 65, a former state employee who had just walked through Oakland’s Chinatown, a dilapidated district that has seen a spate of violence against Asians over the past year.
“China is obviously a rising power, and the United States is a declining power,” said Yale, who married a Chinese American and visited China twice.
“America needs help, too,” he said. “We’ve played our role in the world, and now we are having a lot of problems here at home. I hope that the Chinese can help the United States at this time in terms of investment, cultural exchange, technology.”
The U.S. government considers China a strategic competitor, with Beijing seeking to grow its military and economic influence around the world. There have been clashes over tariffs and technology secrets, as well as regional flashpoints that have the potential to spiral into armed conflict, including in the Taiwan Strait and the South China and East China seas.
A 70-year-old Chinese immigrant in Oakland, who requested anonymity, said he expected Xi would stick up for China’s claim to Taiwan. China sees the self-ruled island as part of its territory and has threatened to use force, if needed, against Taiwan despite Biden’s commitment to defend it. The immigrant supports unification of the two sides.
Some Americans say the U.S. needs to continue to push China on issues that range from trade and technology theft to human rights concerns.
Biden “raised concerns about the PRC’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly,” the White House said in a statement.
Human rights activists demonstrated outside the White House earlier this week in anticipation of the summit.
“Raising an issue is not nearly enough. We need concrete steps,” said 18-year-old university student Tesla Zoksang. The New York-based Tibet activist spent 50 hours outside the White House before the summit to generate attention for what she described as “repressive assimilation” of Tibetans in China. “As far as I know, the Olympics were never mentioned,” Zoksang said.
Zoksang said Biden could have recommended a U.S. diplomatic boycott of China’s 2022 Winter Olympics to protest Beijing’s treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority group and the Tibetans. Many human rights organizations have called for a boycott, accusing China of genocide of the Uyghurs, which China has denied.
Biden should have also asked Xi about “forced labor” of the Uyghurs in China’s northwest, said Washington D.C.-based activist Jewher Ilham.
The D.C.-based advocacy group Hong Kong Democracy Council “wants real action” from the Biden government on Hong Kong’s political future, executive director Brian Leung said Tuesday. He said the administration and Congress should pass legislation that opens a “humanitarian pathway for Hong Kongers who have to flee Hong Kong for very imminent political persecutions” in the Chinese territory that has come under increased pressure from Beijing since the protracted street protests of 2019.
An administration official in Washington downplayed expectations before the Biden-Xi meeting, saying Sunday it wasn’t about “agreeing to a specific deliverable or outcome.”
While many people approached for interviews did not know about the summit or declined to give an opinion, Andreii Semenov, a 44-year-old German-born sailor in Oakland, called the Sino-U.S. relationship a “political game.”
Saqib Ul Islam contributed to this report.