US President Joe Biden will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in person today for the first time since taking office, with US 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 yesterday after the Senate results. “There’s never any miscalculation about ... where each of us stands.”
The US 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 stabilise ties marked by growing tensions over issues from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, coercive trade practices and US 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 US 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 afterwards. He said Biden would also look for areas where the United States and China could work together, including climate change or public health.
US President Joe Biden (centre) disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar on the Indonesian resort island of Bali yesterday as he travels to attend the G20 Summit. (AFP)