President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met face-to-face Wednesday after a year of silence between them in a bid to reduce tensions and improve lines of communication after months of friction between the two superpowers.
The summit took place along the sidelines of the San Francisco meeting of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, which is focused on bolstering economic growth in the region. A country house and museum known as the Filoli Estate, which sits about 25 miles south of downtown San Francisco, was the site of the meeting between the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies.
It marks the seventh interaction between Mr. Biden and his Chinese counterpart, but their first since last November in Bali, Indonesia. The two have not had any phone calls or other communications since then, a senior White House official told reporters this week.
Relations between the U.S. and China have sunk to their lowest level in decades. Several incidents have spurred talk that the two are inching toward conflict in a world already weary of wars in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Incidents include the Biden administration shooting down a Chinese spy balloon that flew across the United States in February, differences over the self-ruled island of Taiwan, and the theft of 60,000 emails from a senior State Department official by Chinese hackers.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi kicked off their meeting by emphasizing the need for communication to thaw tensions.
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“I value our conversation because I think it’s paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader to leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunication,” Mr. Biden told his Chinese counterpart.
He said previous talks have been “candid, straightforward and useful” to ensure “competition does not veer into conflict.”
Mr. Xi said the U.S.-China relationship has never been “smooth sailing” over the 50 years since President Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to the communist country, but “it has kept moving forward.”
“For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option,” he said. “It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other, and conflict and confrontation has terrible consequences for both sides. The world at large is big enough for the two countries to succeed.”
While the Biden administration is hopeful the talks could spur future communications between the two nuclear superpowers, signs of lingering tensions remained after the meeting.
The two countries did not release a joint statement after the meeting, and Mr. Biden gave a solo press conference instead of taking questions alongside Mr. Xi, both atypical practices after a world leader sit-down.
On the eve of the summit, Mr. Biden told donors at a campaign fundraiser that China’s economy has serious problems as unemployment has soared.
“President Xi is another example of how reestablishing American leadership in the world is taking hold,” Mr. Biden said. “They’ve got real problems, folks.”
It is not the first time Mr. Biden has questioned China’s economic strength. Earlier this year, he angered Beijing by calling its economy “a ticking time bomb.”
Both sides tempered expectations ahead of the meeting, cautioning no major breakthroughs were anticipated. Still, Mr. Biden hailed the four-hour meeting as “most constructive and productive.”
Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi agreed to take steps to curb fentanyl production and to restore military communications, which China closed last year after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, visited Taiwan.
Biden administration officials had pushed to reestablish military communications, but China rebuffed their outreach after the U.S. shot down the spy balloon.
Mr. Biden touted the resumption of military talks with China as a major path forward to lessen tensions between the two nations.
“We’re back to direct, open, clear, direct communications,” Mr. Biden said after the meeting. “Vital miscalculations on either side can cause real, real trouble with a country like China or any other major country.”
He also boasted that the agreement to reduce the amount of fentanyl and pill presses from China is “going to save lives.”
A readout of the meeting by the Chinese government said the two nations will resume meetings between their defense ministries and start talks between senior military commanders.
Those issues were only the start of a long list of topics Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi needed to address.
During the meeting, Mr. Biden pressed Mr. Xi to use China’s influence to urge Iran or its proxies from escalating the Israel-Hamas fighting into a wider regional war.
Mr. Biden planned to raise the issue of Chinese misinformation operations aimed at influencing foreign elections, the status of U.S. citizens believed to be wrongly detained in China, human rights violations, managing the growth of artificial intelligence, trade and climate change.
The U.S. president is expected to warn Mr. Xi not to take advantage of Washington’s focus on Ukraine and Israel as it pursues expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.
“President Biden, in the smaller sessions, made clear our concerns about Ukraine, talked about the next steps in the Middle East, explained our desire for China to weigh in with Iran to avoid steps that would be seen as provocative or escalatory,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Mr. Biden told Mr. Xi that the U.S. remains committed to containing Beijing’s aggression in the region, alarms that China has raised with its posturing over Taiwan, which China has long claimed belongs to it and has vowed to retake by force if necessary.
Mr. Biden has said that the U.S. will protect Taiwan with military force, but his aides have walked back those statements in favor of the long-standing official U.S. policy of ambiguity on the matter.
The meeting had not only international implications but also political risks for Mr. Biden as he seeks reelection and is the subject of an impeachment inquiry probing his family’s business dealings with China.
Ahead of the meeting, Republicans blasted Mr. Biden’s policies on China, accusing him of long appeasing the communist nation.
“From national security to COVID, Joe Biden has appeased China and refused to hold them accountable. Now he’s expected to strike a military deal that cedes one of our ‘strategic advantages’ to China,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, referring to the potential deal on artificial intelligence in nuclear weapons.
“Biden continues to put the Chinese Communist Party first and America last,” she said.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, meanwhile, demanded Mr. Biden return from the bargaining table with results.
“If Biden leaves his meeting with Xi Jinping empty-handed, it will not only be embarrassing, it will be another CCP propaganda win,” she said.
Chinese companies are at the center of House Republicans’ impeachment investigation, which has turned up evidence that members of the Biden family raked in at least $5 million from companies linked to China’s Communist Party.
Mr. Biden has denied any wrongdoing, but critics have alleged that is why he hasn’t taken a stronger stance toward Beijing.
The Biden administration has abandoned some Trump-era efforts aimed at bottling China, including a Justice Department initiative that cracked down on Chinese intellectual property theft.
Jason Miller, a spokesman for the 2024 Trump presidential campaign, said when it comes to China, Mr Biden is “weak, soft and easily manipulated.”