Biden set to engage in key talks with President Xi Jinping on Monday amid heightened tensions with China

Biden likes to talk about the tens of hours and thousands of miles he spent with Xi when they were both vice presidents of their countries. He claims to have spent more time with the President of China than with any other world leader.

But everything has changed since Biden, as he would like to recall, dined with Mr. Xi on the Tibetan Plateau and described the United States in one word: “possibility.”

Now, the world’s two largest economies are experiencing acute tensions over trade, military aggression and human rights. And Biden finds himself in a high rope action with China’s most powerful leader in decades.

“Our two countries are in a fundamentally different place from each other than we have been in the past,” a senior administration official said before a meeting Biden had been preparing with senior aides for several days. . “It’s a multifaceted, complex dynamic with no historical parallels.”

Monday’s talks are among the most important of Biden’s presidency, amid worsening relations between Washington and Beijing and, in fact, acknowledged by administration officials, that managing America’s relationship with China will become Biden’s most important international goal.

White House Officials Believe A Large South Lawn Signing Ceremony for a massive new public works package, scheduled hours before Biden’s virtual summit, will signal progress on a key cornerstone of his foreign policy: demonstrating democracies. can be more effective than autocratic regimes like China. He plans to detail the new infrastructure package to Mr. Xi.

The fact that the bill passed with the help of a number of Republicans – delivering on Biden’s promise to work along party lines – helps maintain his pledge to demonstrate democracies. owner can operate, according to the official.

Still, he entered the negotiations at a politically waning time. His party has underperformed in this month’s Virginia elections, and polls continue to show his approval ratings at some of the lowest levels of his presidency. .

That is in stark contrast to Mr. Xi, who consolidated power in China last week when the Chinese Communist Party passed a landmark resolution that elevated him to the same level as his two powerful predecessors. most – Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Officials said Mr. Xi’s status upgrade only heightens the requirement to face Biden.

Nearly every issue Biden is focusing on, domestically and internationally, has links to China. Supply chain problems that are leading to domestic inflation can partly be attributed to a shortage of Chinese factories. Fighting climate change requires support from Mr. Xi, who has shown a willingness to work with Biden on the issue. Managing global trouble spots like North Korea and Iran, each with coordination with Beijing.

Monday’s virtual summit is not expected to produce concrete results on those or any other way in which the United States and China agree or disagree. Instead, US officials previewed a discussion to further expand lines of communication through “tense diplomacy” so that the current “severe competition” situation does not inadvertently topple the city. conflict.

At lower levels, that “tense diplomacy” has begun to produce results, according to US officials. After a rough start at the start of the administration, being arrested when US and Chinese diplomats spoke at a meeting in Alaska, US officials now say their Chinese counterparts recently willing to engage in more substantive discussions on a wide range of issues as Mr. Xi. – The first meeting is approaching.

Biden is a lover of face-to-face meetings, and earlier in his presidency complained that virtual summits – where foreign leaders are glued to video screens – cannot reproduce the reaction. The chemistry of sitting face to face. American officials say the leaders’ meetings are even more important for Mr. Xi, whose inner circle is increasingly small and now holds a historic level of power.

Over the summer, aides had hoped to set up a meeting between the two men on the sidelines of this year’s Group of 20 summit in Rome. But Mr. Xi has not left China for nearly two years, partly because of Covid-19 concerns. So Biden decided to hold a virtual summit instead as a way to boost his previous two phone calls with Mr. Xi.

“There’s something different about actually seeing someone physically, about the depth of conversation you can have, compared to just being on a regular phone line,” the official said. said, who described different ways to prepare for a video meeting than just talking on the phone. .

Officials said they had prepared Biden for three key areas of discussion during the meeting, which they expected to last several hours. (The men will speak through the interpreter.)

First, Biden plans to outline his approach to China, rooted in a plan to compete more aggressively on technology and industrial policy while avoiding military conflict altogether.

Second, he plans to be “direct and forthright” in pointing out areas where the US and China disagree, such as human rights violations against the Uighur minority in the Western Xinjiang Provence. or militarization in the South China Sea. Biden plans to tell Xi that he expects him to follow internationally agreed “rules of the road”.

And third, he hopes to discuss places where the US and China can cooperate, including on nuclear non-proliferation and climate change. The two countries recently surprised observers at the COP26 climate talks in Scotland with a shared commitment to cut emissions.

Officials conceded Mr. Xi could steer the conversation in other directions, including possibly inviting Biden to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Beijing (the White House has not said whether Biden will accept). accept or not).

They said they did not expect Biden to raise the issue of tariff easing, left over from the Trump administration, which some experts say could help ease current inflation concerns. China has also yet to fulfill its promise to buy $200 billion of American products, made as part of Trump’s trade deal.

What officials hope is that the two men can engage in a conversation that goes beyond symbolic words and into substance.

“President Biden knows that the rivalry between our two countries has global implications. As a global leader, he takes that seriously,” the official said. “But ultimately he is meeting with President Xi to protect the prosperity and security of the American people and people around the world.”


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