U.S. President Joe Biden will meet face-to-face with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a “constructive conversation” in San Francisco in November, the White House said Tuesday, but the details of the meeting are still being finalized.
A meeting between Biden and Xi will mark the latest and most high-profile effort to stabilize relations between the two global superpowers amid growing international conflicts while also fostering economic competition.
“We’re aiming to have a constructive conversation meeting between the leaders in San Francisco in November,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday. “It’s going to happen.
“Intense competition means intense diplomacy. That’s what you’re going to see. That’s what the president is going to be doing (by) having a tough conversation but an important conversation.”
Asked if the meeting will be face-to-face, Jean-Pierre said “yes” but wouldn’t give details on the agenda or other details.
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The Associated Press and Reuters have reported that an agreement in principle for Biden and Xi to meet in person was worked out last week during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s three-day visit to Washington, D.C. The reports cited U.S. government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations, and added that “important details” still needed to be finalized.
The White House said in a statement last week that the two sides were “working toward” a Biden-Xi face-to-face on the sidelines of the upcoming summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a forum of 21 Pacific countries.
Beijing has yet to confirm if Xi will travel to San Francisco for the annual APEC summit, which runs from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17.
During his visit to Washington, Wang met with Biden as well as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
The White House said Biden “emphasized that both the United States and China need to manage competition in the relationship responsibly and maintain open lines of communication,” and he “underscored that the United States and China must work together to address global challenges.”
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Wang, in a statement released by China’s foreign ministry summarizing his Washington meetings, said that although there are still many issues to be resolved, both sides believe that it is both beneficial and necessary for the U.S. and China to maintain dialogue.
But Wang added the road to a Biden-Xi meeting would not be “smooth sailing” and that the two sides could not rely on “autopilot” to make it happen.
Tensions between the two countries remain high, including over U.S. export controls on advanced technology and China’s more assertive actions in the East and South China seas, particularly toward Taiwan. The U.S. and China have also been discussing their responses to the growing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.
Biden has asked Congress to approve more than US$105 billion in additional national security spending that includes military and financial aid for Taiwan, as well as billions more for Israel and Ukraine.
Jonathan Miller, a senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute who studies China, says a Biden-Xi meeting is a “good sign” that the two countries are committed to working through their issues.
He told Global News the Chinese side is likely focused on ensuring the scope and outcomes of the meeting are decided ahead of time so there are no “surprises.”
“They cannot come out of this looking like the Americans are going to pull a ‘gotcha’ moment on them,” he said.
To a domestic audience, Miller added, Xi “doesn’t have to look perfect, but he can’t be embarrassed.”
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As for Biden, Miller said the U.S. president is likely eager to have the meeting in order to solidify his foreign policy bonafides ahead of next year’s election.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry statement, Wang also said that China and the U.S. needed a “return to Bali,” in a reference to Xi and Biden’s previous meeting at a G20 summit last year, where both officials discussed issues relating to Taiwan, U.S.-China trade tensions as well as cooperation to address issues like climate change, health and food security.
The leaders did not meet in person at this year’s G20 summit in New Delhi.
Wang said that the two countries must “eliminate interference, overcome obstacles, enhance consensus and accumulate results.”
He said before Thursday’s initial meeting with Blinken in Washington that China’s goal was to “push the relationship as soon as possible back to the track of healthy, stable and sustainable development.”
The Biden administration has not been shy in recent months of calling out China’s aggressive behaviour, particularly in the South China Sea.
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The Pentagon this month released a comprehensive report detailing China’s military build-up in the region, which included the revelation that Chinese military jets have dangerously intercepted U.S. aircraft more than 180 times over the last two years. Such intercepts have targeted U.S. ally and partner aircraft, including Canada, roughly 100 times over the same period, it said.
The Chinese president last came to the U.S. in 2017, when former president Donald Trump hosted him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Biden, who took office in 2021, has yet to host Xi on U.S. soil. The two men last met in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2022, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting of leading rich and developing nations.
The U.S.-China relationship began to sour in 2018 when the Trump administration slapped hefty tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Chinese goods. It deteriorated further over a range of issues, including rights abuses, the South China Sea, Taiwan, technology and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Both sides have been very theatrical and public in their disagreements, but I think you’re going to see that (bilateral talks) will be more diplomatic in nature than in previous years,” Miller said.
—with files from the Associated Press and Reuters