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Biden and Xi to Meet Face-to-Face as Superpower Relations Mired in Tensions

Published: November 13, 2022
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington, U.S. November 15, 2021. (Image: Screenshot / REUTERS)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington, U.S. November 15, 2021. (Image: Screenshot / REUTERS)

By Nandita Bose, Simon Lewis, and David Brunnstrom, Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in person on Monday for the first time since taking office, with U.S. concerns over Taiwan, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions on top of his agenda.

The long-awaited in-person meeting comes as relations between the superpowers have sunk to their lowest in decades. The two will meet on the Indonesian island of Bali ahead of the annual Group of 20 (G20) summit, gathering leaders of the world’s major developed and emerging economies.

Biden goes into the meeting on the back of a major domestic victory with Democrats clinching control of the Senate, a development acknowledged by global leaders, while Xi secured an unprecedented third term in office last month.

“I know I’m coming in stronger but I don’t need that. I know Xi Jinping, I spent more time with him than any other world leader.” Biden told reporters in Cambodia on Sunday after the Senate results. “There’s never any miscalculation about … where each of us stands.”

The U.S. president, who is on a whirlwind trip with stops at an international climate summit in Egypt and an ASEAN meeting, and the East Asia Summit in Cambodia ahead of G20, is hoping to build a “floor for the relationship” with China and ensure there are rules that bound competition between the two nations.

Biden recently said he was unwilling to make any fundamental concessions when he meets Xi and that he wanted both leaders to lay out their “red lines” and resolve areas of conflict.

The meeting is unlikely to produce concrete results, and no joint statement is expected, the White House has said, but it could help stabilize ties marked by growing tensions over issues from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, coercive trade practices, and U.S. restrictions on Chinese technology.

Biden and Xi, who have held five phone or video calls since Biden took office in January 2021, last met in person during the Obama administration. Strains flared especially after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August trip to Taiwan, the self-governed democratic island that Beijing claims as its territory.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the meeting could run for two hours or more, and Biden would be “totally straightforward and direct” in the conversation.

“The president sees the United States and China as being engaged in a stiff competition, but that competition should not tip over into conflict or confrontation,” Sullivan told reporters, promising Biden comments afterward. He said Biden would also look for areas where the United States and China could work together, including climate change or public health.

Relations date over a decade

The two leaders know each other well, having traveled over 17,000 miles together and spent 78 hours in meetings, according to Biden’s calculations. They spent time together in the United States and China in 2011 and 2012 when both were serving as their respective countries’ vice presidents.

Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping have a no-tie dinner at the Jianjiang Hotel in Chengdu, China on Aug. 21, 2011. (Image: The White House)

Beijing, frustrated by what it sees as the Biden administration’s weaponization of economic policies, has sought to expand ties with Europe and Africa. Xi’s government has also criticized the Biden administration’s posture toward Taiwan as undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Chinese president has also suggested that Washington wants to stifle Beijing’s growing influence as it tries to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy.

Monday’s meeting on the sidelines of a meeting of Group of 20 leaders in Bali, Indonesia, comes weeks after the Biden administration unveiled a new national security strategy that sees an increasingly authoritarian China as the most consequential challenge to the global order.

“The Biden administration will try to kill two birds with one stone – enlist Chinese support on issues like reining in North Korea and climate change – to create some basis for cooperation between China and the U.S.,” said Oriana Skylar Mastro, a China expert at Stanford University.

Reporting by Nandita Bose, David Brunnstrom, and Simon Lewis, writing by Andrea Shalal and Nandita Bose; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Lisa Shumaker