Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden met for long-awaited talks that come as relations between their two countries are at their lowest point in decades, and disagreements are marred on a range of issues from Taiwan to trade.
The two leaders, who held their first personal talks since Biden became president, met Monday on the Indonesian island of Bali ahead of a G20 summit set to be fraught with tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden and Xi shook hands in front of a row of Chinese and American flags when they met at the luxurious Mulia Hotel on Bali’s Nusa Dua Bay.
“The world has come to a crossroads,” Xi said, vowing to hold a “frank” discussion of the issues that tore ties between the world’s two major powers.
“The world expects that China and the United States will properly deal with the relationship,” he said.
Biden, for his part, greeted Xi with a smile that contrasted the growing competition between the nation that defined the last century and a rival seeking to define the next.
Biden said he wants the United States and China to “manage our differences, and prevent competition from becoming a conflict.”
On the eve of his meeting with Xi, Biden told Asian leaders in Cambodia that lines of communication with China would remain open to prevent conflict, but that talks were expected to be difficult.
Biden told reporters that he had “always had direct discussions” with Xi, which prevented either of them from “miscalculating” their intentions.
“I know him well, he knows me,” Biden said. “We just have to figure out where the red lines are and what are the most important things to each of us, over the next two years.”
Biden arrived in Bali Sunday night, where his Democratic Party retained control of the Senate after a better-than-expected performance in the midterm elections.
Xi, who secured an unprecedented third term at the Communist Party congress last month, is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
The planned talks received little coverage in Chinese state media, which reported that Xi will hold bilateral meetings with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, French President Emmanuel Macron and Senegalese President Macky Sall.
“There are low expectations from China, and perhaps the most positive outcome is that both sides are keeping the channels of communication open,” said Patrick Fook, an Al Jazeera correspondent based in Beijing.
Relations between the United States and China have deteriorated sharply in recent years due to issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, and coercive trade practices and US restrictions on Chinese technology.
Tensions escalated further after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan in August. Beijing claims the self-governing island is its own, and the trip has angered the flight, carrying out days of air and sea exercises around the island after Pelosi’s departure.
Biden and Xi, who have made five phone calls or video calls since Biden became president in January 2021, met in person during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.
Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, called on the Biden administration to “stop politicizing” trade and embrace Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan.
Beijing also wants Washington to raise tariffs that former President Donald Trump imposed in 2019 and ease restrictions on China’s access to US chips and other technologies. Biden left most of those in place, and added restrictions on access to technology that US officials say could be used in weapons development.
“The United States needs to stop politicizing, arming and ideologicalizing trade issues,” Zhao told a news briefing.
Biden is also likely to urge Beijing to take a more assertive approach to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Chinese leader has largely refrained from publicly criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, with Beijing abstaining from the vote at the United Nations.
“We believe that, of course, every country in the world should do more to control Russia, especially those who have relations with Russia, to end this war and leave Ukraine,” said Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser.
Officials say Biden will also urge China to rein in its ally, North Korea, after an unprecedented number of missile tests this year and expectations that Pyongyang may conduct its seventh nuclear test soon.
“Beijing has an essential role to play in encouraging North Korea’s restraint and stimulating denuclearization,” Leif Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, said in comments via email.
“Although there is little chance of a Biden-Xi meeting during the G-20 to immediately increase cooperation, the framework for dealing with Pyongyang should not be ‘Cold War 2.0’ but rather a multilateral defense of the international order.”
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