President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged pleasantries for the cameras at the top of their virtual summit Monday night.
Xi referred to Biden as an ‘old friend,’ while Biden noted that the two men have ‘spent an awful lot of time talking to each other.’
‘Maybe I should start more formally even though you and I have never been that formal,’ Biden then said.
Biden told the Chinese leader he was looking forward to a ‘candid and forthright discussion,’ which will ensure ‘simple, straightforward competition’ between China and the United States.
‘We need to establish some common-sense guardrails,’ Biden said, adding, ‘especially on vital global issues like climate change.’
President Joe Biden (left) and Chinese President Xi (right) Jinping exchanged pleasantries for the cameras at the top of their virtual summit Monday night
President Joe Biden waves to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the top of their virtual meeting Monday night
Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) listens as President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) meet virtually Monday night
‘We have a responsibility to the world as well as to our people,’ the U.S. president added.
‘That’s why we believe – and you and I have talked about this – all countries have to play by the same rules of the road, why the United States is always going to stand up for our interests and values, and those of our allies and partners,’ Biden said. ‘“If past is prologue, I am sure that today we’ll be discussing those areas where we have concerns – on human rights, on economics, to ensuring a free and open Indo Pacific.’
Biden also shared that he and Xi have ‘always communicated with one another very honestly and candidly.’
‘We never walk away wondering what the other man is thinking,’ Biden said.
Before turning the program over to Xi, Biden thanked the Chinese leader for calling and congratulating him after he won the election last year, saying it was ‘very gracious.’
Through a translator, Xi told Biden, ‘Good to see you, Mr. President and your colleagues.’
‘It’s the first time for us to meet virtually, although it’s not as good as a face to face meeting, I’m very happy to see my old friend,’ Xi said.
‘Humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together,’ Xi said. ‘China and the U.S. need to increase communication and cooperation,’ the Chinese president also offered.
The two men were meeting Monday night Washington time, while it’s already Tuesday morning in Beijing.
The meeting is expected to last for several hours.
Cabinet members including Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from right) and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (right) joined President Joe Biden’s (left) virtual meeting Monday night with Chinese President Xi Jinping (second from left)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued in advance of the Biden-Xi virtual meeting that the president was coming into the meeting from a ‘position of strength,’ pointing to the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill
Earlier, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was entering Monday night’s summit with Xi from ‘a position of strength’ thanks to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill getting passed.
‘Today he is signing this infrastructure bill. And this infrastructure bill is essential and important for many reasons, but one of which is for the first time in 20 years we will be investing more in infrastructure than China and that is going to strengthen our competition at home in addition to putting millions of people to work,’ Psaki said at Monday’s press briefing.
The press secretary also argued that Biden will be entering the talks in good standing because he’s spent his first 10 months in office strengthening relations with traditional U.S. allies.
‘The president and the national security team feel that the president is coming into this meeting from a position of strength,’ she said. ‘If you look at where we were nine, ten months ago. And if you look at how we outline our approach to China, many months ago, we talked about the importance of rebuilding our alliances, our relationships, coordinating with Europeans and other key partners in the world on how we’re approaching this relationship.’
‘We have made enormous stides in building those relationships, including on the president’s trip just two weeks ago where he had a range of conversations,’ Psaki added, speaking of the G20 in Rome and the COP26 climate summit.
Biden has also been plagued by dragging poll numbers and the fallout from his disastrous pull-out from Afghanistan.
The aim of Monday’s virtual summit with China is to defuse tensions over Taiwan and other flashpoints.
However, both sides have signaled little appetite for compromise.
‘Certainly, the president will express areas where he feels China should be taking additional action, should be behaving in a different manner that is more aligned with the rules of the road and the expectations with the United States and the global community,’ Psaki said.
The two leaders have spoken by phone twice since Biden’s inauguration in January but with Xi refusing to travel abroad because of the pandemic, an online video meeting is the only option short of an in-person summit.
Most attention in the build-up has focused on the sparring over Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy claimed by China, and Biden’s aides have cast the summit as an opportunity to help prevent tensions escalating.
‘We know as a responsible global leader that it’s important to keep channels of communication open,’ a senior administration official told reporters, adding that competition between the two countries should not lead to conflict.
‘The president will also make clear that we want to build common guardrails to avoid miscalculation or misunderstanding.’
At the same time, the White House sought to temper expectations, with the official saying that the summit ‘is not a meeting where we expect deliverables to be coming out.’
Biden, a veteran of foreign policy issues during his decades in politics, has often said phone conversations are no substitute for face-to-face meetings.
Xi has not left China for nearly two years, and Biden sharply criticised his absence at the recent COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow and G20 summit in Rome.
Relations between the superpowers plummeted during the presidency of Donald Trump, who launched a trade war with China while assailing Beijing over its handling of the pandemic.
Biden has recast the confrontation more broadly as a struggle between democracy and autocracy.
And while the day-to-day tone is more measured than under Trump, relations have worsened over Taiwan.
China has ramped up military activities near Taiwan in recent years, with a record number of warplanes intruding into the island’s air defense zone in October.
The United States says it supports Taiwan’s self-defense but is ambiguous about whether it would intervene to help directly. China is stepping up its rhetoric, warning Washington to keep out.
‘Any connivance of and support for the “Taiwan independence” forces undermines peace across the Taiwan Strait and would only boomerang in the end,’ Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a weekend meeting.
China’s foreign ministry on Monday put the onus on Biden to improve relations.
‘We hope that the U.S. will work in the same direction as China to get along with each other,’ foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Chinese state media on Monday also portrayed Taiwan as the key flashpoint in current US-China tensions.
The United States must ‘take a step back from the Taiwan question,’ the Global Times, a hawkish tabloid, said in an editorial.
However the US administration official signaled Biden would be ‘very direct’ on what he called ‘China’s coercive and provocative behavior with respect to Taiwan.’
The official also stressed that the two nations had room for cooperation in various areas, such as climate change.
This virtual meeting is being held at a time when Xi continues to strengthen his grip on power.
Top Chinese Communist Party leaders last week passed a resolution that is expected to help Xi shore up his power by setting in stone his vision for China and diminishing the role of previous leaders.
The resolution ‘further cemented’ power in the hands of the Chinese president, the Washington official said.
The official added, ‘In our mind that just further underscores the importance of this leader level engagement.’