Biden Xi Jinping
This combination of file pictures created on June 08, 2021, shows US President Joe Biden (L) speaking at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC on June 2, 2021; and Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking on arrival at Macau's international airport on December 18, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

President Joe Biden will meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.

The confirmation follows months of work between the two countries to set up a sit-down for the two leaders around the APEC meeting - though the official acknowledgment appeared to happen almost by mistake during the daily White House press briefing.

Jean-Pierre was asked why a formal announcement had not yet been finalised, and disputed the premise of the question.

“The president said he’s looking forward to meeting with President Xi, and so, not going to get into details about this meeting that’s going to happen in this - tomorrow’s November - next month,” Jean-Pierre said. “It’s going to be in San Francisco. It’s going to be a constructive meeting. The president’s looking forward to it.”

When asked if she was confirming the meeting was actually happening, the White House spokeswoman responded “yes.”

“I believe we have been clear about that,” she said.

Pressed further, Jean-Pierre backed away slightly, saying the US was “aiming to have a constructive conversation, meeting between the leaders in San Francisco in November.” But later, she conceded that the meeting was “going to happen.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington said it had “no information to offer” on a Xi-Biden summit, repeating Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s remarks last month that the road to such a sit-down wouldn’t be smooth.

The two sides agreed in principle to a meeting between Biden and Xi following Wang’s visit in October, according to an American official at the time, but held off on an announcement as they worked to finalise the details.

The agenda for the Biden-Xi meeting is likely to span issues including disputes over their economic and technological ambitions, disagreements over Taiwan, human rights, as well as broader geopolitical issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war. The US has pushed China to use its ties with Iran to keep the conflict from escalating and drawing in other countries and groups in the Middle East.

Biden administration officials had been eager to announce a face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies. It will be the first time Biden and Xi have spoken since they met in November 2022 at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. That meeting saw a short-lived thaw between the leaders as new tensions rose in the bilateral relationship.

Relations hit a new low in February after the US military shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon and virtually all channels of communication were cut off. The relationship has improved since then, due in part to a series of visits by US Cabinet officials to Beijing and working groups to address technology and economic issues.

Still, the countries are at odds over a number of issues and Chinese officials discussions’ with the US have been increasingly focused on economic issues such as US technology sanctions. Biden is restricting the export of advanced semiconductor and chipmaking technologies to China and seeking alternative sources for critical minerals “- the natural resources needed for high-tech manufacturing.