Biden with Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 leaders' summit in Bali, Indonesia, on November 14, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Bali: Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping shook hands at a hotel in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday before their first in-person meeting since Biden took office, one of the most closely watched encounters of his presidency.

The two men met shortly after 5:30pm local time on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit. They were expected to talk for at least two hours, after which Biden plans to hold a news conference.

“Good to see you,” Biden said to Xi before they joined US and Chinese officials. The two sides sat at long conference tables with a display of flowers between them.

“We share a responsibility, in my view, to show China and the United States can manage our differences, prevent competition from coming anywhere near conflict, and find ways to work better together,” Biden said to kick off the talks.

“It’s good to see you,” Xi said through a translator.

“Currently, the China-US relationship is in such a situation that we all care a lot about it, because this is not the fundamental interest of our two countries and peoples and it’s not what the international community expects of us,” Xi added. He said the two sides “need to find the right direction” and “elevate the relationship.”

Before meeting Xi, Biden talked with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and Australia on Sunday, which White House officials described as preludes for the much-anticipated meeting with the Chinese leader. The president explained his approach and asked the US allies their concerns.

Biden separately used a summit in Cambodia with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to firm up relationships in a region where China is by far the top trading partner.

While US officials declined to spell out any specific outcomes they expect from the Xi meeting, they said he would seek to set guardrails around a relationship that has deteriorated since Biden took office - bringing the two countries perilously close to economic or even military conflict. American partners wanted to see dialogue as the dominant feature of US efforts to foster stability in the Taiwan Strait, they said.

“We have very little misunderstanding,” Biden told reporters on Sunday in Cambodia. “We’ve just got to figure out where the red lines are and what we - what are the most important things to each of us going into the next two years.”

Biden walks with Xi. Image Credit: AP

US officials said negotiations about the meeting’s format went late into the night Sunday, predicting a highly scripted affair.

Senior Biden administration officials said Monday that relations have warmed somewhat simply by planning for the meeting with their Chinese counterparts, a process that’s taken about a month.

“We feel very good about the coordination and the foundation that we’ve set heading into Bali,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters a day before the meeting.

Communications cutoff

China broke off many routine contacts with the US earlier this year after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a visit to Taiwan.

The US and China have also been divided over Russia’s attacks on Ukraine and US efforts to deny Beijing access to advanced chips that are key to dominanting technologies that will drive growth in the 21st century.

Biden will seek to build a floor under the relationship and increase communication responsibly and practically, US officials said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the meeting. They framed the meeting as the first serious, in-person US-China diplomacy in years.

Any move to calm tensions would be welcomed in Asia, where many governments saw Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as an unnecessary provocation. US allies and partners including South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have also failed to fully endorse Biden’s efforts to deny China advanced chip technology - a move Beijing has said was intended to maintain American “hegemony.”

‘Stiff competition’

In a meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday afternoon ahead of his meeting with Xi, Biden said the two democracies were working together to preserve the “system of international order.”

The president will make clear “that the United States is prepared for stiff competition with China, but does not seek conflict, does not seek confrontation,” Sullivan said.

Xi’s government is in a period of transition and he’s expected to bring along officials who are about to be elevated following the Chinese leader’s move to consolidate his power, the US officials said.

The leaders will be offered simultaneous translation through earpieces, allowing for a quicker-paced conversation, though Biden aides said they expect the tone to be businesslike. The entire meeting is expected to be conducted with each country’s full team present - the presidents won’t have a more private discussion during the event.

The talks are happening as the US and Europe prepare to impose a cap on the price of Russian oil, in a bid to both limit revenue for the Kremlin’s war machine while keeping the country’s crude on the market. Biden isn’t planning to raise the price cap with Xi, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most important remaining partner, the US officials said.