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First In-Person Meeting of Biden and China’s Xi Jinping

November 10, 2022 by Dan McCue
First In-Person Meeting of Biden and China’s Xi Jinping
This combination image shows U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, Nov. 6, 2021, and China's President Xi Jinping in Brasília, Brazil, Nov. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Eraldo Peres, File)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will hold his first face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, ahead of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

Though the two leaders have spoken on five other occasions since Biden took office in January 2021 — and actually have known each other since he was vice president during the Obama administration — a senior administration official told reporters on a briefing call Thursday morning that the president believes “there is no substitute for face-to-face diplomacy to carry these discussions forward.”

“President Biden has made it a priority to keep lines of communication open with the People’s Republic of China at all levels, to responsibly manage competition between our two countries,” the official said.

“And as we’ve always said, there’s no more important channel than communication on the leader-to-leader level,” they continued.

“The president believes it is critical to build a floor for the relationship and ensure the rules of the road that bound our competition.”

But the official went on to stress that Monday’s meeting in Bali will not just focus on trade and economic competition.

“It’s also going to be about ensuring that we’re working together in areas where our interests align, especially transnational challenges that affect the international community,” they said.

It was former President Donald Trump who ushered in a more confrontational era in U.S.-China relations, but since taking office, the Biden administration has largely maintained his predecessor’s approach to Beijing, though with a more hopeful tone and a belief that progress can be made.

The United States has long been concerned about China’s assertiveness in global markets, its record and approach to human rights, and its efforts to rapidly modernize its military.

For a time U.S. officials hoped that China’s increasingly robust contact with the rest of the world would lead to the removal or loosening of many of its restrictive or more hardline policies.

That has not happened. And just last month, the Chinese Communist Party Congress elected Xi to an unprecedented third term as general secretary, suggesting his increasingly authoritarian approach to governing will remain in place for years to come.

According to the administration, the Biden-Xi meeting will be “an in-depth and substantive conversation” between the two leaders that will allow them to get a better understanding of “one another’s priorities and intentions.”

“I expect that discussions will come to cover a number of areas,” the senior administration official said. 

“First, I expect the leaders will discuss their respective views on the relationship and President Biden will lay out ideas on how best to manage the competition responsibly,” they said. 

“Second, I expect the president will be honest about a number of our concerns, including PRC activity that threatens peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as well as our long-standing concerns about human rights violations, and more broadly, the concerns we and our allies and partners have about China’s harmful economic practices. 

“Third, the president will discuss areas where the two countries can and should work together and propose some ways to advance those efforts. And fourth, I expect them to discuss a range of regional and global issues, including Russia’s war in Ukraine and recent provocations by North Korea,” the official added.

Despite the ambitious agenda, administration officials downplayed suggestions that there will be any major breakthroughs and that the meeting will begin and end without a joint statement “of any sort” being made by the two world leaders.

“The goal, as I’ve already said, is to ensure that we have ongoing lines of communications, that we manage our differences and that we work together when we can. For us, those are kind of the biggest pieces of what success looks like,” the official said, adding, “this is really not a meeting that’s being driven by deliverables.”

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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