Biden, Xi First in-person meeting amid Strained US-China ties

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Biden XI Jinping

The Biden-Xi meeting happens when the US and China are at loggerheads over a broad range of issues, including Taiwan to Hong Kong, trade, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden XI Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping at The Great Hall of People on October 23, 2022 in Beijing, China. [Lintao Zhang/Getty Images]

Biden and Xi’s first meeting as Presidents

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet US President for the first time since Biden was elected to the White House, with the US leader boosted by a stronger-than-expected performance in the midterm elections.

The two will meet in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday, ahead of a G20 summit overshadowed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has further strained US-China relations. The two countries also disagree on Taiwan, North Korea, and trade issues.

On the eve of the meeting with Xi, Biden warned Asian leaders in Cambodia that communication channels with China would remain open to avoid conflict but that the talks would be difficult.

Biden has stated that he has always had frank discussions with Xi, which has prevented either of them from making “miscalculations” about their goals.

“I know him well, and he knows me,” Biden remarked. “We simply have to find out where the red lines are and what the most critical things are for each of us over the next two years.”

Biden arrived in Bali Sunday night, as his Democratic Party maintained control of the Senate despite a better-than-expected performance in the midterm elections.

Xi, who won an extraordinary third term at the Communist Party Congress last month, is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, is set to land on the Indonesian island on Monday.

Biden XI Jinping
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in Beijing on Oct. 31, 2022. [Kyodo News/Getty Images]

US, China at collision

The anticipated talks have garnered scant notice in Chinese state media, which has announced that Xi will meet with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Senegalese President Macky Sall.

According to Al Jazeera’s Patrick Fok, China has minimal expectations, and the only favorable outcome is that the two sides keep communication channels open. However, US-China relations have deteriorated dramatically in recent years over issues ranging from Hong Kong, the South China Sea, Taiwan, coercive trade practices, and US restrictions on Chinese technology.

Tensions heightened after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August. Beijing claimed the self-ruled island as its own and was enraged by the visit, conducting days of air and naval drills near the island after Pelosi’s departure.

Biden and Xi, who have had five phone or video meetings since Biden became president in Jan 2021, last met in person during the Obama administration at the time Biden was vice president.

According to the White House, Monday’s meeting is unlikely to result in a joint statement, but there is hope it will lead to a more solid relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

China has stated that the talks will focus on US trade action and Taiwan.

Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry official, exhorted the Biden administration to ‘stop politicizing’ trade and abide by Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan.

Beijing also demands Washington lift tariffs imposed by outgoing President Donald Trump in 2019 and relax limits on Chinese access to chips and other US technology. Biden has kept most of them in place while restricting access to technology that US officials think can be used in weapons development.

“The United States must stop politicizing, weaponizing, and ideologizing trade issues,” Zhao stated during a press conference.

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National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the White House on November 10, 2022 in Washington, DC. [Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]

Beijing to ‘prevail’ upon Moscow & Pyongyang

Biden is also expected to encourage Beijing to be more assertive in dealing with Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. The Chinese leader has avoided chiefly public criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s actions, with Beijing abstaining in critical United Nations votes.

“Of course, we believe that every country in the world should do more to persuade Russia, particularly those with links with Russia, to end this war and leave Ukraine,” said US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Officials said Biden would also push China to rein in its partner North Korea after an unprecedented number of missile testing this year and expectations that Pyongyang may conduct its seventh nuclear test shortly.

According to  Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, in an email, Beijing has a critical role to play in promoting North Korean restraint and incentivizing disarmament,” said “Although there is little prospect that the Biden-Xi meeting at the G20 will immediately improve collaboration, the foundation for dealing with Pyongyang ought not to be ‘Cold War 2.0,’ but instead a multilateral defense of the international order.”

The G20 conference will officially begin on Tuesday.

It is only Xi’s second foreign travel since COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan nearly three years ago. His first abroad trip since the pandemic’s onset was a September conference with Putin and Central Asian leaders. He did not attend a dinner or picture opportunity where Putin and others did not wear masks.

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