WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday evening in a virtual meeting meant to stabilize the relationship between the two world powers amid tense competition between the two countries.
The meeting comes at a near nadir in a relationship that most foreign policy analysts expect will define the 21st century. The meeting will not resolve years of tensions and ongoing competition between these countries. Instead, both sides view basic communication as the key to avoiding major crises.
Biden will express concerns over human rights and trade tensions between the two countries as well as security over Taiwan, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters ahead of the meeting. The official stated that while climate change will be on the agenda, they are not likely to discuss supply-chain issues.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden is entering the meeting “from a position of strength” after shoring up key US alliances and securing a major bipartisan infrastructure package at home.
Where the US-China relationship stands
U.S.-China relations steadily worsened over the past few years with former President Donald Trump turning the country into a political foil during his campaign for president. He later imposed steep tariffs against China over trade practices and lambasted the country’s government and citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chinese leaders have also taken a more stridently nationalist tone domestically and abroad in recent years. The government is currently leading a crackdown on major tech companies and increasing censorship of any vaguely critical voices.
Xi also frequently indicates his desire to take over Taiwan, an independent nation that Beijing sees as a renegade province, within his lifetime. The Chinese government has taken significant steps to suppress democracy in Hong Kong, which is a quasi-independent city state under its control.
The increased repression comes as China increases its economic and military might on the global stage, worrying the U.S. and Western allies who see a challenge to the rules based international order crafted in Washington over the last century.
While the White House is candid about the many areas of disagreement it has with China’s behavior domestically and abroad, Psaki said Monday that Biden “will also look for areas where we can work together,” especially on issues like climate change.
Monday’s call will be the third meeting between the two leaders; Biden and Xi have already had two phone calls this year where they discussed how to maintain stability between the two countries while acknowledging the oppositional relationship.
“This is competition. In a speech to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Biden stated that there does not need to be conflict in the U.S.-China relationship.
What is on the agenda for the Biden-Xi call?
The meeting will be an important way for the two powers to “responsibly manage competition” while still allowing Biden to express dissatisfaction in areas of the relationship, the State Department said in a Saturday statement.
Biden is not expected to raise the issue of tariffs, which Trump imposed on $350 billion of Chinese-made products. Some analysts argue easing the tariffs could help reduce inflation in the United States.
“The meeting in our view is an opportunity to set the terms of the competition with China in a way that reflects our interests and values, insist that the (China) played by the rules of the road,” Psaki said. The president will undoubtedly express his opinion that China should follow the international community’s rules. “
Biden’s meeting with Xi, which is expected to run for about two hours, comes after months of meetings between White House officials and their Beijing counterparts.
On Saturday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with China’s foreign minister as a prelude to the summit between Biden and Xi. According to the State Department, Blinken said that the meeting provides an opportunity for both leaders to discuss how to manage competition and work together in areas where their interests align.
While Biden famously prefers to meet foreign leaders in person, Xi has not left China since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, making a meeting between the two leaders on neutral ground an unlikely prospect.
A long history of talks between Xi and Biden
Though the meeting will be their first since Biden became president, the two have known each other for years, going back to when Biden served as vice president under then-President Barack Obama while Xi was China’s vice president. Biden boasted that he spent more time with Xi then any other leader in the world.
Xi recently consolidated further power at a November meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, meaning Biden’s direct familiarity with the autocrat is even more impactful in steering the future of the relationship, a dynamic Psaki recognized in her remarks.
Biden traveled to China in 2011 and met with Xi over the course of three days. Xi and Obama met again one year later at the White House. They had dinner at the Naval Observatory, Washington’s vice president’s residence.
Biden met again with Xi in China in 2013 and again in 2015 when Xi came to Washington on a state visit as the Chinese president.
Familiarity does not equal friendship, however, as Biden and senior aides often repeat publicly. Psaki stated Monday that Biden’s relationship with Xi has allowed him to “be direct and not hold back” during conversations.
“The president feels he is able to raise candid discussions with President Xi,” she continued, adding the Biden feels Xi is someone “with whom he can raise directly areas where we have concerns, whether its security issues, whether its economic issues, human rights. “
Michael Collins and Matthew Brown cover the White House. Follow Collins @mcollinsNEWS, Brown @mrbrownsir.