We’ve spent a lot of time talking to each other, and I hope we can have a candid conversation tonight as well,” Biden said as the talks began, seated at the head of the table in the Roosevelt room as Xi’s face was. Broadcasting in a pair of TV screens.
From his seat in a cavernous room within the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi was quite friendly.
“Although it is not as good as meeting face to face, I am very happy to see my old friend,” Xi said at first.
It was an auspicious start to some of the more important conversations of the Biden presidency, given the deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing and the reality, which government officials acknowledged, that managing the United States’ relationship with China would be the trick. The most important international target.
Taiwan on the table
The cordial greetings finally got more serious when Biden expressed concern about human rights, and Chinese aggression toward them. Taiwan and work problems. Throughout, the leaders engaged in a “healthy debate,” according to a senior administration official who attended the discussions.
The three-and-a-half-hour summit, which took longer than planned, gave the two men ample opportunity to get away from their prepared talking points, officials said. Officials said the tone remained “respectful and direct.”
But the long-awaited summit yielded no major breakthroughs — none of which were expected early on — and officials dismissed the idea that the summit was intended to ease what had become an increasingly strained relationship.
“I don’t think the goal was specifically to ease tensions, or that was the outcome. We want to make sure that the competition is run responsibly, that we have ways to do that. The president has been very clear that he is going to participate in that tough competition,” said the senior official at management later.
Xi and Biden’s relationship when they were vice presidents
Biden likes to cite the tens of hours and thousands of miles he walked with Xi when both served as vice presidents. He claimed to have spent more time with the Chinese president than any other world leader.
But things have changed since Biden, as he likes to remember, dined with Xi on the Tibetan plateau and described America in one word: “the odds.”
Now, the world’s two largest economies are embroiled in severe tensions over trade, military aggression and human rights. And Biden, who opened the virtual summit on Monday night, is in high turmoil with China’s most powerful leader in decades.
The senior administration official said that during the summit, each man told stories of their travels together, sometimes quoting the other’s words from that time.
As the talks progress, Biden said he hopes to discuss a substantive, far-reaching agenda.
“As I said before, it seems to me that our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our two countries does not turn into conflict, whether intended or unintended. Just direct competition,” he said. He said while talking to Xi through an interpreter.
“It seems to me that we have to put up some logical barriers, to be clear and honest when we disagree and work together where our interests intersect,” Biden continued, asking to communicate “honestly and directly” on a variety of discussion topics. .
“We don’t leave and wonder what the other guy is thinking,” he said.
Topics of conversation between Biden and Xi
The White House later said Biden had raised concerns about human rights abuses against Uyghur minority In western Xinjiang and Tibet.
Taiwan, which has been a source of increasing tension in recent months, was the subject of intense discussion during the summit. Biden emphasized the importance of the “one China” policy and was vocal about his concerns about Chinese behavior that threatens stability in the Taiwan Strait. But he did not establish any of the new “walls” referred to at the beginning of the talks.
Regarding COVID-19, Biden reiterated the importance of transparency to prevent future outbreaks, referring to China’s unwillingness to allow an international investigation into The origins of the current epidemic.
He raised areas in which the United States and China could cooperate, including climate change. The two countries recently surprised observers at US climate talks. COP26 In Scotland with a shared commitment to reducing emissions.
After speculation that Xi might use the meeting to invite Biden to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, officials said the issue was not raised.
White House officials look forward to a grand signing ceremony on the new South Lawn Mega Public Works PackageHeld a few hours before Biden’s virtual summit, it should help signal progress in his key foreign policy logic: showing that democracies can do more effectively than authoritarian regimes like China. He planned to detail Xi’s new infrastructure package.
The fact that the law Project It passed with the help of some Republicans, fulfilling Biden’s promise to work across party lines, and helping to deliver on his promise to show democracies can succeed, according to officials.
Biden and Xi’s political position
But he entered the talks at a time of political weakness. His party underperformed in the out-of-year elections this month in Virginia, polls continue to show approval rating At some lower levels of his presidency.
This is in stark contrast to Xi, whose consolidation of power in China was boosted last week when the Chinese Communist Party adopted a landmark resolution that elevated him to the two most powerful predecessors: Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Officials said Xi’s promotion only made the face-to-face confrontation with Biden more necessary.
Almost every issue Biden focuses on, both domestically and internationally, has to do with China. Problems Suppliers who drive inflation In the country it can be attributed in part to the shortage of Chinese plants. Fighting climate change requires approval from Xi, who has shown some willingness to partner with Biden on the issue. Manage global hotspots like North Korea And Iran means coordination with Beijing.
Face to face meetings
Biden is a fan of face-to-face meetings and complained early in his presidency that virtual summits, where foreign leaders are linked to video screens, cannot reproduce the face-to-face chemistry. US officials say the meetings between the two leaders are more important with Xi, whose inner circle is getting smaller and smaller and now enjoys a historical level of power.
Over the summer, attendees had hoped to host a meeting between the two men on the sidelines of this year’s G-20 summit in Rome. But Xi has not left China in nearly two years, due in part to COVID-19 concerns. Therefore, Biden settled on a virtual summit as a way to move forward with his previous two phone calls with Xi.
“There is something different about seeing someone physically, in the depth of the conversation they might be having, compared to just on a regular phone line,” the administration official said, describing different ways to prepare for a video conference compared to just a phone conversation. .
CNN’s Nicole Gauette contributed to this report.