G20 Summit: US President Biden, his Chinese counterpart Xi meet face-to-face amid tension
US President Joe Biden sat down with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday for their first in-person meeting since the US President took office nearly two years ago on the sidelines of high-stakes G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, amid increasing tensions between the two superpowers as they vie for global influence.
Both the state heads shook hands at the start of their summit. There was exchange of greetings when the duo met. The US president replied with smile as Xi greeted the Biden with a "good to see you" comment.
Both men are coming into the highly anticipated meeting — held on the margins of the Group of 20 summit of world leaders in Indonesia — with bolstered political standing at home.
Democrats triumphantly held onto control of the Senate, with a chance to boost their ranks by one in a runoff election in Georgia next month, while Xi was awarded a third five-year term in October by the Community Party's national congress.
“We have very little misunderstanding,” Biden told reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he participated in a gathering of southeast Asian nations before leaving for Indonesia. “We just got to figure out where the red lines are and ...what are the most important things to each of us going into the next two years.” Biden added, “His circumstance has changed, to state the obvious, at home.”
The president said of his own situation, “I know I'm coming in stronger.”
White House aides have repeatedly sought to play down any notion of conflict between the two nations and have emphasised that they believe the two countries can work in tandem on shared challenges such as climate change and health security.
Strained relations between US, China
But relations between the US and China have become increasingly strained during Biden's presidency.
As president, Biden has repeatedly taken China to task for human rights abuses against the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities, crackdowns on democracy activists in Hong Kong, coercive trade practices, military provocations against self-ruled Taiwan and differences over Russia's prosecution of its war against Ukraine.
Chinese officials have largely refrained from public criticism of Russia's war, although Beijing has avoided direct support such as supplying arms.
Taiwan has emerged as one of the most contentious issues between Washington and Beijing.
Multiple times in his presidency, Biden has said the US would defend the island — which China has eyed for eventual unification — in case of a Beijing-led invasion.
But administration officials have stressed each time that the US's “One China” policy has not changed.
That policy recognises the government in Beijing while allowing for informal relations and defence ties with Taipei, and its posture of “strategic ambiguity” over whether whether it would respond militarily if the were island attacked.
Tensions flared even higher when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited Taiwan in August, prompting China to retaliate with military drills and the firing of ballistic missiles into nearby waters.
The Biden administration also blocked exports of advanced computer chips to China last month — a national security move that bolsters US competition against Beijing.
Chinese officials quickly condemned the restrictions. And though the two men have held five phone or video calls during Biden's presidency, White House officials say those encounters are no substitute for Biden being able to meet and size up Xi in person.
That task is all the more important after Xi strengthened his grip on power through the party congress, as lower-level Chinese officials have been unable or unwilling to speak for their leader.
Asked about the anticipated meeting, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said last week at a news briefing that China was looking for “win-win cooperation with the US” while reiterating Beijing's concerns about the US stance on Taiwan.
“The US needs to stop obscuring, hollowing out and distorting the One China principle, abide by the basic norms in international relations, including respecting other countries' sovereignty, territorial integrity and noninterference in other countries' internal affairs,” he said.
Xi has stayed close to home throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic, where he has enforced a “zero-COVID” policy that has resulted in mass lockdowns that have roiled the global supply chains.
He made his first trip outside China since start of the pandemic in September with a stop in Kazakhstan and then onto Uzbekistan to take part in the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with Putin and other leaders of the Central Asian security group.
White House officials and their Chinese counterparts have spent weeks negotiating out all of the details of the meeting, which is taking place at Xi's hotel with translators providing simultaneous interpretation through headsets.
US officials were eager to see how Xi approaches the Biden sit-down after being newly empowered with a tradition-breaking third term and consolidating his position as the unquestioned leader of the state, saying they would wait to assess whether that made him more or less likely to seek out areas of cooperation with the US.
Biden and Xi are each planning to bring small delegations into the discussion, with US officials expecting that Xi would bring newly-elevated government officials to the sit-down and expressing hope that it could lead to more substantive engagements down the line.
Before meeting with Xi, Biden first held a sit-down with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who is hosting the G-20 summit, to announce a range of new development initiatives for the archipelago nation, including investments in climate, security, and education.
Many of Biden's conversations and engagements during his three-country tour — which took him to Egypt and Cambodia before he landed on the island of Bali on Sunday — were, by design, preparing him for his meeting with Xi and sending a signal that the US would compete in areas where Xi has also worked to expand his country's influence.
In Phnom Penh, Biden sought to assert US influence and commitment in a region where China has also been making inroads and where many nations feel allied with Beijing.
He also sought input on what he should raise with Xi in conversations with leaders from Japan, South Korea and Australia.
The two men have a history that dates to Biden's time as vice president, when he embarked on a get-to-know-you mission with Xi, then China's vice president, in travels that brought Xi to Washington and Biden through travels on the Tibetan plateau.
The US president has emphasised that he knows Xi well and he wants to use this in-person meeting to better understand where the two men stand.
Biden was fond of tucking references to his conversations with Xi into his travels around the US ahead of the midterm elections, using the Chinese leader's preference for autocratic governance to make his own case to voters why democracy should prevail.
That view was somewhat validated on the global stage, as White House aides said several world leaders approached Biden during his time in Cambodia to tell him they watched the outcome of the midterm elections closely and that the results were a triumph for democracy.
Biden planned to deliver public remarks and take questions from reporters after his meeting with Xi.
(With AP input)
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