World Views

Biden-Xi meeting still on track, no major breakthroughs expected

Aamer Madhani, MDT/AP

The anticipated meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping is on track for next week on the sidelines of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, but the White house is not expecting the face-to-face to result in major changes to the relationship between the two nations, according to a person familiar with the planning.

The White House announced late last month that U.S. and China had come to an agreement in principle for Biden and Xi to speak to each other in person on the sidelines of the summit — the first engagement between the leaders in what’s been a tension-filled year between the world’s two biggest economic powers. But with Biden set to arrive in San Francisco in a week for the summit, exact timing and other logistical details have not yet been formally announced.

The U.S. believes that the two sides will be able to made some modest announcements following their meeting, but the fundamental differences in the relationship will remain unchanged, according to the person, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Jude Blanchette, chair of China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Biden and Xi were looking “to intentionally keep that bar low.”

“What’s going on here is an attempt to have a deep conversation where the two sides directly share their concerns, but more importantly that the meeting unlocks, especially in the Chinese system, space for further engagement in constructive work,” Blanchette said.

There’s been plenty of effort by both sides to lay the groundwork for the expected San Francisco meeting.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is set to meet this couple of days with Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng in San Francisco before finance ministers of the APEC member nations officially kick off the summit Saturday.

The meeting between the two senior government officials comes after Biden spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the White House for about an hour late last month, when Beijing’s top diplomat came to Washington for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Xi similarly met with Blinken in June when the secretary of state traveled to Beijing for talks with Wang.

Yellen last met with her counterpart He during a July visit to Beijing, when she urged Chinese government officials to cooperate on climate change and other global challenges and not to let sharp disagreements about trade and other irritants derail relations.

Biden and Xi last met nearly a year ago on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, a nearly three-hour meeting in which Biden objected directly to China’s “ coercive and increasingly aggressive actions” toward Taiwan and discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other issues.

The already fraught relationship has become only more complicated since that Bali meeting. Differences have sharpened as a result of U.S. export controls on advanced technology; Biden ordering the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon after it traversed the continental United States; and a stopover in the U.S. by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen earlier this year, among other issues.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step U.S. leaders say they don’t support. Under the “One China” policy, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but it has maintained that Taipei is an important partner in the Indo-Pacific.

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