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Biden, Xi chart path to warmer ties with Blinken China visit
G20

Biden, Xi chart path to warmer ties with Blinken China visit

5 min. 14.11.2022
First in-person meeting between US and Chinese leaders since onset of pandemic almost three years ago
US President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali on Monday
US President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali on Monday
Photo credit: AFP

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping agreed to a series of goodwill gestures intended to improve ties between their countries after the first in-person meeting between the leaders of the US and China since the pandemic began.

The two men met for about three hours on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, greeting each other with a handshake and conciliatory remarks in which they both called for calming tensions.

“Good to see you,” Biden said to Xi before they joined US and Chinese officials. The two sides sat at long conference tables with a display of flowers between them.

The White House said in a statement afterward that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would travel to China, in a sign of a thaw. The US will work with China to organise a visit tentatively planned for early next year, according to a senior State Department official.

The countries will also resume talks between senior officials on issues including climate change, economic stability and debt relief, and health and food security, according to the White House and a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Biden said Xi was “direct and straightforward” in their meeting, and - in another sign of progress in the relationship - declared that there was no “imminent” threat that China will invade Taiwan, the self-governed island that’s become the biggest flashpoint between Beijing and Washington.

US President Joe Biden (L) and China's President Xi Jinping (R) meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on November 14, 2022. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) and China's President Xi Jinping (R) meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on November 14, 2022. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
AFP

“I absolutely believe there need not be a new Cold War,” Biden said at a news conference at his hotel in Bali.

In another key point of agreement between them, Biden and Xi said that “a nuclear war should never be fought” and that they oppose “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” according to the White House statement. 

Xi and the Chinese government have been reticent to publicly criticise Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 

But China’s foreign ministry, citing Xi, cautioned in its statement that “suppression and containment will only strengthen the will and boost the morale of the Chinese people.”

'Elevate the relationship'

“Starting a trade war or a technology war, building walls and barriers, and pushing for decoupling and severing supply chains run counter to the principles of market economy and undermine international trade rules,” the statement added, referring to existing or proposed US policies. “Such attempts serve no one’s interests.”

And the White House statement noted points of disagreement, saying that Biden “raised concerns about PRC practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and human rights more broadly.”

Biden told Xi that the US remains committed to its One China policy in which Taiwan is not recognised as an independent country. 

But he “raised US objections to the PRC’s coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region, and jeopardise global prosperity.”

China broke off many routine contacts with the US earlier this year after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a visit to the self-governing island. Biden’s repeated pledges that the US would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack have also alarmed Beijing.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo delivers his closing speech during the B20 Summit, part of the G20 dialogue
Indonesian President Joko Widodo delivers his closing speech during the B20 Summit, part of the G20 dialogue
AFP

Biden and Xi each kicked off their meeting with statements that noted the imperative of peaceful relations between their countries.

“We share responsibility, in my view, to show that China and the United States can manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything ever near a conflict, and to find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” Biden said.

“The world expects, I believe, China and the United States to play key roles in addressing global challenges, from climate changes to food insecurity, and for us to be able to work together,” he added. “The United States stands ready to do just that, work with you - if that’s what you desire.”

Xi told Biden, “It’s good to see you.”

“Currently, the China-US relationship is in such a situation that we all care a lot about it, because this is not the fundamental interest of our two countries and peoples and it’s not what the international community expects of us,” Xi said, through a translator. He said the two sides “need to find the right direction” and “elevate the relationship.”

“A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world,” Xi told Biden. “Humanity is confronted with unprecedented challenges. The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle the relationship.”

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry who was in the meeting, said Xi called on both countries to work together to avoid a collision. The success of both nations should be celebrated, she said, adding that China is committed to peaceful development.

“The world is big enough for the two countries to develop themselves and prosper together,” she said on Twitter. She added: “China-U.S. relations should not be a zero-sum game where one side out-competes or thrives at the expense of the other.”

Cambodia prelude

Before meeting Xi, Biden talked with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and Australia on Sunday, sessions that White House officials described as a prelude for the much-anticipated gathering with the Chinese leader. The president explained his approach and asked the US allies their concerns. 

US President Joe Biden meets China's President on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, November 14, 2022.
US President Joe Biden meets China's President on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, November 14, 2022.
Saul Loeb/AFP

Biden separately used a summit in Cambodia with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to firm up relationships in a region where China is by far the top trading partner.

US officials said negotiations about the meeting’s format went late into the night Sunday, predicting a highly scripted affair. Biden and Xi met at the Chinese delegation’s hotel, and the Chinese side required extensive precautions against Covid-19, including PCR tests for the virus and N-95 masks for US journalists accompanying Biden.

Xi has left his country only twice since the pandemic began.

Senior Biden administration officials said Monday that relations have warmed somewhat simply by planning for the meeting with their Chinese counterparts, a process that’s taken about a month.

Xi was under some pressure at home to look tough, particularly in the run-up to a twice-a-decade Communist Party meeting in October at which he secured a third term in office - and potentially more. 

On top of the sensitivities over Taiwan, the US and China have also been divided over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US efforts to deny Beijing access to advanced semiconductors that are key to dominating technologies that will drive growth in the 21st century.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.


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