Biden Shakes Hands With Xi as Leaders Call for Easing Tensions

(Bloomberg) — Joe Biden and Xi Jinping shook hands on Monday to kick off the first in-person meeting between the leaders of the US and China since the pandemic began, with both calling for reduced tensions between the world’s largest economies.

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The two men met shortly after 5:30 p.m local time on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. They were expected to talk for at least two hours, after which Biden plans to hold a news conference.

“Good to see you,” Biden said to Xi before they joined US and Chinese officials. The two sides sat at long conference tables with a display of flowers between them.

“We share responsibility in my view to show that China and the United States can manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything ever near a conflict, and to find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” Biden said at the start of the meeting.

“The world expects, I believe, China and the United States to play key roles in addressing global challenges, from climate changes to food insecurity, and for us to be able to work together,” Biden added. “The United States stands ready to do just that, work with you — if that’s what you desire.”

Xi told Biden, “It’s good to see you.”

“Currently, the China-US relationship is in such a situation that we all care a lot about it, because this is not the fundamental interest of our two countries and peoples and it’s not what the international community expects of us,” Xi said, through a translator. He said the two sides “need to find the right direction” and “elevate the relationship.”

“A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world,” Xi told Biden. “Humanity is confronted with unprecedented challenges. The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle the relationship.”

Cambodia Prelude

Before meeting Xi, Biden talked with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and Australia on Sunday, which White House officials described as prelude for the much-anticipated gathering with the Chinese leader. The president explained his approach and asked the US allies their concerns.

Biden separately used a summit in Cambodia with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to firm up relationships in a region where China is by far the top trading partner.

While US officials declined to spell out any specific outcomes they expect from the Xi meeting, they said he would seek to set guardrails around a relationship that has deteriorated since Biden took office — bringing the two countries perilously close to economic or even military conflict.

Taiwan has become the biggest flashpoint between the countries. China broke off many routine contacts with the US earlier this year after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a visit to the self-governing island. Biden has repeatedly promised the US would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

‘Red Lines’

“We have very little misunderstanding,” Biden told reporters on Sunday in Cambodia. “We’ve just got to figure out where the red lines are and what we — what are the most important things to each of us going into the next two years.”

US officials said negotiations about the meeting’s format went late into the night Sunday, predicting a highly scripted affair. The two men met at the Chinese delegation’s hotel, and the Chinese side required extensive precautions against Covid-19, including PCR tests for the virus and N-95 masks for US journalists accompanying Biden.

Xi has left his country only twice since the pandemic began.

Senior Biden administration officials said Monday that relations have warmed somewhat simply by planning for the meeting with their Chinese counterparts, a process that’s taken about a month.

Xi was under some pressure at home to look tough, particularly in the run-up to a twice-a-decade Communist Party meeting in October at which he secured a third term in office — and potentially more.

On top of the sensitivities over Taiwan, the US and China have also been divided over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US efforts to deny Beijing access to advanced semiconductors that are key to dominating technologies that will drive growth in the 21st century.

Biden seeks to build a floor under the relationship and increase communication responsibly and practically, US officials said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the meeting. They framed the meeting as the first serious, in-person US-China diplomacy in years.

Any move to calm tensions would be welcomed in Asia, where many governments saw Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as an unnecessary provocation. US allies and partners including South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have also failed to fully endorse Biden’s efforts to deny China advanced chip technology — a move Beijing has said was intended to maintain American “hegemony.”

–With assistance from Iain Marlow.

(Updates with additional remarks beginning in fourth paragraph)

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