US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping opened a virtual summit on Monday with a call for better communication between the superpowers and what Biden called “security barriers” to avoid conflict.
“It seems to me that our responsibility as leaders of porcelain and the USA to ensure that competition between our countries does not become a conflict, intentional or not. Just direct competition, “Biden said.
He said they would have a “frank” discussion.
Xi, speaking from Beijing, called Biden “my old friend,” but said rivals should work more closely.
“We face multiple challenges together. As the world’s two largest economies and permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation,” he said, speaking through an interpreter in brief public statements. , before leaving. behind closed doors.
The two leaders have spoken by phone twice since Biden’s inauguration in January, but since Xi refused to travel abroad due to the pandemic, an online video meeting was the only option other than an in-person summit. .
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden will attend the summit, which is expected to last a couple of hours, “from a position of strength,” after months of rebuilding alliances with other democracies to contain China.
The meeting is “an opportunity to set the terms of competition with China” and insist that the leadership in Beijing “respect the rules of the road,” Psaki said.
Most of the attention in the run-up to the meeting has focused on the standoff over Taiwan, an autonomous democracy claimed by China. Biden’s aides have presented the summit as an opportunity to help prevent tensions from escalating.
Both Biden and Xi emphasized the need for their countries to work together on major global issues, especially Covid-19 and climate change.
“A strong and stable relationship between China and the United States is needed” to safeguard a peaceful and stable international environment, “Xi said.
However, the White House sought to moderate expectations and the official said that the summit “is not a meeting in which we expect results to come out.”
Biden gets a domestic boost
Relations between the superpowers plummeted during the presidency of Donald Trump, who launched a trade war with China while attacking Beijing’s response to an international investigation into the origins of the Covid pandemic in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Biden has reformulated the confrontation more broadly as a struggle between democracy and autocracy.
He got a boost Monday when he signed into law a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure package, the largest of its kind in more than half a century. Biden describes the initiative as an important step in catching up with years of intensive investment by the Chinese government, thus demonstrating that democracies can compete.
“The world is changing,” he said in a speech at the White House. “We have to be prepared”.
While the day-to-day tone is more measured than it was in the Trump era, the tension over Taiwan threatens to escalate into dangerous new territory.
China has stepped up military activities near Taiwan in recent years, with a record number of warplanes entering the island’s air defense zone in October.
The United States says it supports Taiwan’s self-defense, but is ambiguous about whether it would step in to help directly.
In brief comments made to reporters, Xi referred to the need for each country to “handle our internal affairs,” but did not mention the United States’ criticism of the Beijing rumors in Taiwan, the massive human rights violations or other sore spots.
Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi did not hold back, telling US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call that “any collusion and support for the forces of ‘independence Taiwan ‘undermines peace across the Taiwan Strait and would only generate a boomerang in the end. “
China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday assigned Biden the responsibility of improving relations.
“We hope that the United States will work in the same direction as China to get along,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
A senior US administration official, who asked not to be named, said Biden would be “very blunt” about what he called “China’s coercive and provocative behavior toward Taiwan.”
Biden, a veteran of foreign policy during his decades in politics, has often said that phone conversations are not a substitute for face-to-face meetings.
Xi has not left China for nearly two years, and Biden harshly criticized his absence at the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow and the G20 summit in Rome.