Biden and Xi meet at the G-20 against a backdrop of high tensions

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NUSA DUA, Indonesia – President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping began a high-level meeting here Monday, the first in-person exchange between them as leaders of their countries and at a time of heightened tensions between global powers.

The meeting is the most consequential of his week-long foreign trip, with the two countries clashing over trade, the war in Ukraine, economic and military threats, and many fearing that US-China relations could turn into a cold war of sorts.

With aides and advisers watching from long covered tables in the ballroom at the Saray Mulia resort – everyone in the delegations wore masks except for two key figures – both presidents stressed the importance of face-to-face diplomacy and They expressed hope that they would be able to restore US-China relations again.

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“The world, I believe, expects the United States and China to play a key role in global challenges, from climate change to food security, and that we can work together,” Biden said in his opening remarks. “The United States is ready to do that.”

Xi said a few minutes later that “China-US relations are currently facing a situation that does not correspond to the interests of the two countries, their peoples, and the expectations of the international community. As leaders of China and the United States, we must take the helm and steer bilateral relations in the right direction.”

As reporters were being ushered out of the room, a television producer called to ask Biden if he would raise human rights during the talks. A man on the Chinese side pulled the producer back from his backpack and he lost his balance but did not fall. Later, two White House staffers intervened and said that the producer should be left alone.

Each leader in Bali for the Group of 20 summit came to the table with a new sense of courage. Xi has tightened control – securing a third, against-the-norm five-year term – and consolidating power to a degree not seen since the eras of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Biden is fresh off a midterm election in which his party did better than expected and will maintain his majority in the Senate.

White House officials have been buoyed by the Democratic showing in the midterm elections last week, with several foreign leaders approaching Biden to comment on his fresh domestic victories, citing a surprising familiarity with key states and regions even from colleagues. they do not represent democracies.

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The sit-down between Biden and Xi took place on the third day of Biden’s tour of Asia. He first arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Saturday for a summit with Southeast Asian nations, where the United States aimed to unite them to counter the growing economic and military threat posed by China.

The US-China meeting has begun after 17:30 local time and can last for hours. The plan was for simultaneous interpreters, which U.S. officials often prefer to speed up the dialogue so that each leader does not have to wait for the other to finish before beginning the translation.

The face-to-face is the result of months of quiet negotiations as diplomats lay the groundwork for the talks. Senior officials in the Biden administration hailed the discussions as an improvement in the countries’ mutual relations, though they kept expectations low for any progress from the meeting. Biden and Xi have held five phone conversations since Biden took office, but they have not met in person since 2017.

No joint statement is expected at the end of the meeting, which is typical when the parties want to show areas of progress and agreement. White House officials said that they do not expect any serious announcement in advance.

Instead, they present the moment as the start of a long process to help thaw a relationship so strained that even talks on issues of mutual interest, such as climate change, sometimes stall. The officials said they knew the US was in “fierce competition” with China and that Biden “recognized that,” but said continued dialogue would be important to resolve conflicts.

“Communication lines should be open. Period, period,” a senior administration official said before the meeting. “The only thing worse than a controversial conversation is no conversation at all.”

One area the two men will discuss is economic competition. Biden retained the tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump, who imposed restrictions on the sale of semiconductors and chip-making equipment to China.

“He wants to make sure that competition is limited, we build guardrails, we have clear rules of the road, and we do all these things so that competition doesn’t turn into conflict,” an administration official said. condition of anonymity to preview talks.

China wants to mend relations with the US, but will not take the first step.

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Speaking to reporters hours before the Biden-Xi meeting, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said she expected the conversation to cover the state of the Chinese and global economies.

After decades of rapid growth, China’s economy slowed markedly this year. Xi’s tough “zero covid” policy and repeated lockdowns under the heavily indebted property sector, which accounts for a fifth of the economy, have been key factors. The International Monetary Fund said last month that the country’s annual growth rate is expected to be 3.2 percent this year, compared to 8 percent in 2021.

“First and foremost, today’s meeting aims to stabilize the relationship between the United States and China and create a clearer atmosphere for US businesses so they understand what to expect,” Yellen said.

The Treasury secretary reiterated that U.S. companies are overly dependent on China as a source of minerals needed to make critical products, including electric vehicle batteries. But he suggested that much of the $600 billion annual trade flow between the countries would continue.

“We want a safer and more sustainable supply chain. But certainly a wide range of commercial activities — and U.S. firms doing business in China — that’s certainly not something we intend to prevent,” he said.

Biden also planned to raise longstanding U.S. concerns about China’s human rights record. They have been at loggerheads over Taiwan, particularly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the self-governing island, which Beijing considers part of its territory, in August. Xi had asked Biden to find a way to block his visit; After his visit, China suspended negotiations with the United States on a number of other issues.

“Both sides want the leaders meeting in Bali to turn down the heat on an overheated relationship,” said Danny Russell, who has advised Biden on past meetings with Xi and is now vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute.

“Washington is taking into account the risk that an unexpected event could quickly turn into a crisis,” Russell said. “Beijing is trying to avoid the next round of US punitive measures, such as the latest export controls on semiconductors.”

Entering the meeting, China stated that it wants to restore relations and prevent disagreements from turning into conflict. Chen Dongxiao, president of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, a think tank, pointed out that the two sides have completely different views on how to build the safeguards.

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“China is strategically and politically setting a ‘floor’, which is not to allow the United States to repeatedly threaten or harm China’s core interests,” he said, while Beijing considers only practical measures “unreliable and of little use.” does.

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The White House noted that Xi first warned against using nuclear weapons in Russia’s war against Ukraine when he met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last week. His comment was evaluated as a clear signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think there’s an undeniable concern in Beijing about what we’ve seen in terms of reckless rhetoric and actions from Russia,” a second senior administration official told reporters on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I think it is undeniable that China is both surprised and a little embarrassed by Russia’s military operations.”

The meeting was held at the Mulia resort where both Chinese and Russian delegations stayed. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was not there when Biden and Xi arrived.

Earlier in the day, Russian officials called the claims about Lavrov being taken to the hospital after he fell ill “the height of fraud.”

A few hours before the high-level meeting, groups of Russian and Chinese representatives opened the grand lobby of the Mulia to a majestic view of palm trees lining the sea. The five-star resort, which has 526 rooms, was largely emptied to host the G-20 delegation, officials said.

The many bars and restaurants within the resort were quiet except for waiters wearing masks and face shields. An Indonesian performer sat on the orange marble floor playing the traditional Balinese bamboo rindiki.

At 5 p.m., as the sun began to set, the press swarmed the hotel entrance as Biden and Xi arrived. Guided by security personnel, the two leaders entered the ballroom where the meeting was held.

The Biden-Xi meeting is a reconnection of sorts for the relationship that developed more than a decade ago, when each man was vice president of his country and tasked with getting to know each other and promoting greater understanding.

Once, during a field trip to a school in Los Angeles, they each displayed white T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Strengthening Goodwill Between America and China.” Biden’s shirt was in Mandarin, while Xi’s was in English.

Christian Shepherd reported from Taipei. David Lynch and Rebecca Tan in Nusa Dua contributed to this report.

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