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Biden and Xi prepare for virtual meeting

WASHINGTON – Joe Biden and Xi Jinping of China slurped noodles together in Beijing. They shared their profound thoughts on what America meant in the exchange on the Tibetan plateau. They spoke to American business leaders about developing genuine respect for one another.

The US president has held up his relationship with Mr. Xi as proof of his sincere belief that good foreign policy begins with building strong personal relationships.

But as the two leaders prepare to hold their first presidential meeting on Monday, the troubled US-China relationship is demonstrating the power of one of Biden’s most asserted strengths. As a politician – connectivity – has its limits.

“When it comes to US-China relations, the gap is so great and the trend lines are so problematic that personal touch,” said Matthew Goodman, who served as Asia adviser to the National Security Council. can only go so far,” said Matthew Goodman, who served as Asia adviser to the National Security Council during the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

White House officials have set low expectations for Monday’s virtual meeting: No major announcements are expected and there are no plans for the two countries’ customary joint statement later, according to administration officials .

The public warmth – Xi called Biden his “old friend” when Biden visited China in 2013 while the then US vice president talked about their “friendship” – cooled as both Both are heads of state. In June, Biden fumed when asked by a reporter if he wanted to urge his old friend to cooperate with a World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

“Let’s get this straight: We know each other well; we’re not old friends,” Biden said. “It’s just pure business.”

Still, Biden believes a face-to-face meeting — even a virtual one like the two leaders will hold on Monday night — has its merits.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “He feels that the history of their relationship, having spent time with him, allows him to be quite as candid as before and that he will continue as he is. so,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said while previewing the meeting.

Biden and Xi, aged 78 and 68, respectively, first got to know each other during tours around the United States and China when they were both vice presidents, interactions that both leaders say have helped leave a lasting impression.

Finally, there are signs that there may be at least a partial thaw after the first nine months of the Biden administration were marked by back-and-forths and ineffective exchanges between the two sides. the president’s top adviser.

For example, last week, the US and China pledged at the UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, to strengthen cooperation and speed up action to curb climate-damaging emissions. .

Monday’s meeting – the two leaders’ third engagement since Biden became president – comes amid heightened tensions in the US-China relationship. The two held lengthy phone calls in February and September, where they discussed human rights, trade, the pandemic and other issues.

Biden has made it clear that he considers China to be the United States’ biggest national security and economic competitor and has attempted to adjust US foreign policy to reflect that belief.

His administration has asked Beijing to carry out its mandate to commit human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in northwest China, undermining pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong and resisting global pressure to fully cooperate with investigations into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tensions have also increased as the Chinese military launched an increasing number of sorties near the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

Chinese officials have signaled that Taiwan will be at the forefront of the negotiations. Biden has made it clear that his administration will stick to the longstanding US “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal and defense ties with Taipei. Chinese military forces held exercises last week near Taiwan in response to a visit by a US congressional delegation to the island.

The president intends, in part, to use the conversation to emphasize the need to establish “handrails” in the relationship to ensure that the two sides in their period of intense competition avoid “conflicts” unexpected conflict,” according to a senior administration official. White House reporters scheduled the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the video call was expected to last “several hours,” adding that the White House hoped that the two leaders’ meeting would facilitate their conversation. deeper than the two phone calls earlier this year.

Other presidents of the United States have suggested that engaging with a geopolitical rival can be a good foreign policy strategy. George W. Bush faced ridicule after his first meeting with Vladimir Putin in Russia when he claimed that he had “looked into the man’s eyes” and “could understand his soul. ” Bush will host the Russian leader at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and take him to his father’s mansion in Kennebunkport, Maine, where the 43rd and 41st presidents have taken the Russian president on fishing trips.

In the end, Putin let Bush down, and the relationship broke down following Russia’s 2008 invasion of neighboring Georgia.

Donald Trump has gone from disparaging North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man” to declaring the two “in love” in an exchange of letters as the US President unsuccessfully tried to convince Kim abandon the regime’s nuclear weapons program.

Author Evan Osnos credited Biden’s personal approach to foreign policy in part due to the fact that he has been on the international stage for the past half-century, author Evan Osnos noted in the autobiography. history “Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now.”

Julianne Smith, a Biden adviser, told Osnos: “You can drop him off to Kazakhstan or Bahrain, it doesn’t matter – he’ll find a Joe Blow he met 30 years ago, who is now running this place.

With Beijing set to host the Winter Olympics in February and Mr. Xi expected to be approved by Communist Party leaders to serve a third five-year presidency next year – unprecedented in recent Chinese history – the Chinese leader may be looking to stabilize the relationship in the near term.

Slowing economic growth and the brewing housing crisis have also hit Beijing hard. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a CBS “Face the Nation” interview aired Sunday warned that digging into Beijing’s problems could “have global consequences.”

At the same time, Biden, who has seen his vote drop at home amid concerns about the protracted coronavirus pandemic, inflation and supply chain problems, is looking to strike a balance on the key issue. most consequential foreign policy he faced.

Biden was supposed to hold a face-to-face meeting with Xi, but Xi hasn’t left China since before the coronavirus pandemic began. The virtual meeting was proposed after Biden mentioned in a September phone call with the Chinese leader that he wanted to be able to see Xi again.

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