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President Joe Biden will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping face-to-face on Monday, their first in-person encounter since Biden took office and one that will offer a clarifying opportunity for the world’s most important bilateral relationship.
“The leaders will discuss efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication between the United States and the PRC, responsibly manage competition, and work together where our interests align, especially on transnational challenges that affect the international community. The two leaders will also discuss a range of regional and global issues,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement.
US officials are entering the sit-down on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali without expectations for major deliverables or even the hope that tensions will be significantly eased.
But they do hope Biden can “build the floor” of a functional relationship that doesn’t tip over into conflict and even allows for productive cooperation in areas like climate and North Korea.
“I don’t in any way think that the two leaders are going to sit down and be able to solve all their differences or problems,” a senior administration official said. “But I do think that we believe that some of these steps could be important along the way.”
Instead of any significant takeaways, US officials hope the two leaders can at least come to a mutual understanding about where they see the relationship between the world’s largest economies. The official said the talks would be “in depth” and “substantive.”
“One of the main objectives is really about deepening their understanding of one another’s priorities and intentions, where possible, with the goal of reducing misunderstandings and misperceptions,” the official said.
Up for discussion will be a sharing of each leaders’ respective views of the US-China relationship, which has deteriorated in recent months after Beijing reacted with fury at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to self-governing Taiwan.
China cut off most official channels of communication with the United States afterward, though there were sufficient enough contacts to arrange the meeting between Biden and Xi. In those talks, US and Chinese officials discussed the reestablishment of communications.
Biden and Xi have spoken by phone five times since the president entered the White House. They traveled extensively together, both in China and the United States, when both were serving as their country’s vice president.
Both enter Monday’s meeting on the back of significant political events. Biden fared better than expected in US midterm elections and Xi was elevated to an unprecedented third term by the Chinese Communist Party.
US officials declined to speculate on how the two leaders’ political situations might affect the dynamic of their meeting. Instead, they laid out areas they expected to be on the table.
That includes the issue of Taiwan, which Beijing claims. Biden has vowed in the past to use US military force to defend the island from a Chinese invasion. The issue is among the most contentious between Biden and Xi.
Biden will also raise human rights concerns, the official said. The US accuses China of committing genocide against the Muslim minority population in the western Xinjiang province.
Biden will also raise what the US views as China’s harmful economic practices. It’s unclear whether the issue of US tariffs on Chinese goods would arise in the talks.
The president also plans to discuss areas where the two countries can cooperate, including on climate change.
And he will raise the matter of Russia’s war in Ukraine and North Korea’s ongoing provocations — two areas the US is looking for China to assert its influence to prevent further conflict.
The official did not specify what Biden’s message would be on North Korea, saying they didn’t want China to know Biden’s talking points ahead of time.