Biden, Xi meet amid strained ties ahead of G20 summit in Bali

Tensions between the United States and China continue to rise over a wide range of topics, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, trade, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Relations between China and the United States are at their lowest point in decades due to conflicts over trade and Taiwan. Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States Vice President Joe Biden finally met to discuss these concerns.

On Monday, ahead of a Group of 20 (G20) conference that is expected to be laden with tension over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the two leaders met in person for the first time since Biden became president.

At the luxurious hotel Mulia on Nusa Dua bay in Bali, Vice President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping shook hands in front of a row of Chinese and American flags.

Xi declared that "the world has come to a crossroads," promising a "candid" discussion of topics that have strained relations between the globe's two biggest powers.

The world is counting on China and the United States to handle their relationship responsibly, he said.

Although tensions are high between the country that has defined the last century and the challenger that aims to define the next, Biden greeted Xi with a smile.

As Biden put it, "I want us to manage our differences, avoid competition from turning conflict."

Biden assured Asian leaders in Cambodia on the day of his meeting with Xi that channels of communication with China would remain open to avoid conflict, despite the expected difficulty of the negotiations.

According to Biden's comments to the press, he and Xi have "always had straightforward exchanges," which has prevented any "miscalculations" on either side.

Biden stated, "I know him well, and he knows me." Specifically, "We just need to find out where the red lines are and what the most important things are to each of us heading into the next two years."

Biden landed in Bali late on a Sunday, just as the results from the midterm elections showed that his Democratic Party had kept control of the Senate.

After winning an unprecedented third term at the Communist Party Congress earlier this month, Xi is the most powerful leader of China since Mao Zedong.

Chinese official media have given scant attention to the planned talks, instead focusing on Xi's upcoming meetings with the presidents of Argentina under Fernandez, France under Macron, and Senegal under Sall.

According to Al Jazeera's Beijing-based Patrick Fok, "there are minimal expectations from China, and the most positive conclusion is perhaps that the two sides are keeping communication channels open."

The United States and China's relationship has deteriorated significantly in recent years due to disagreements over a wide range of topics, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, abusive US trade policies, and Chinese technological advancements.

In August, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, raising tensions even further. After Pelosi left, Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as its own, conducted air and naval drills near the island for several days to express its anger.

When Biden was vice president under Obama, he and Xi had their last in-person meeting. Since Biden took office in January 2021, they have had five phone or video meetings.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian demanded that the Biden administration "stop politicizing" commerce and recognize Beijing's claim to sovereignty over Taiwan.

The Chinese government is pressing for Washington to reverse the tariffs enacted by Trump's administration in 2019, as well as loosen limits on Chinese access to semiconductors and other US technologies. To a large extent, Biden has maintained these in place, while also tightening restrictions on the export of technologies that the United States government claims can be used to manufacture weapons.

The United States "has to stop politicizing, weaponizing, and ideologizing trade issues," Zhao said during a briefing.

Furthermore, Biden is expected to encourage Beijing to take a more aggressive stance on Russia's war in Ukraine. Chinese President Xi Jinping has mostly refrained from publicly criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin's behavior, and Beijing has abstained on important votes at the United Nations.

According to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, "we believe that, of course, every country in the world should do more to prevail upon Russia, especially those who have relationships with Russia, to end this war and leave Ukraine."

After an unprecedented number of missile tests this year and anticipation that Pyongyang would soon conduct its seventh nuclear test, officials say that Biden will also encourage China to rein in its partner North Korea.

Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said via email, "Beijing has an integral role to play in encouraging North Korean restraint and incentivizing denuclearisation."

The paradigm for dealing with Pyongyang should not be "Cold War 2.0," but rather a multilateral defense of the international order, even though there is little probability that the Biden-Xi meeting during the G20 will immediately improve cooperation.


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