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Biden and Xi met in person for the first time since the US president took office

Biden and Xi met in person for the first time since the US president took office

Bali, Indonesia (CNN) – US President Joe Biden received his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in person for the first time since taking office, ushering in high-stakes talks that could resonate around the world.

The two leaders’ talks on Monday It may only last a few hoursbut could have consequences spanning months or even years as the world’s largest economies move toward increasingly hostile relations.

The moments the two men spent together on the sidelines of the G20 summit here will be a fraction of the time the two men have been together since 2011. Biden claimed that, as vice president, he spent more than 70 hours with Xi and traveled more than 28,000 kilometers with him across China and the United States. Both are exaggerated, but they still reflect a relationship that is perhaps now the most important on the planet.

Biden hopes they’ll come face to face again After nearly two years of calling only by phone and video conferencing It can produce an outcome that is more strategically valuable, even if you enter conversations with little expectation that it will produce anything tangible.

“I know Xi Jinping. I know him well,” Biden told reporters the day before their meeting, using another often-cited but questionable statistic. He knows me. We have very few misunderstandings.”

US President Joe Biden (right) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, on November 14, 2022. AFP via Getty Images)

US-China relations

It is not unusual for Biden to refer to the many years the two leaders have known. But despite all the times they met when they were both vice presidents, their meeting starts on Monday At a noticeably low point in US-China relations.

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Relations deteriorated rapidly amid economic disputes and a growing military confrontation over Taiwan. The tensions have led to a decline in cooperation in areas where the two countries once shared common interests, such as combating climate change and containing North Korea’s nuclear program.

In a national security strategy document released last month, Biden for the first time identified China as America’s “most important geopolitical challenge” and wrote that the country was “the only competitor bent on reshaping the international system, and increasingly the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to achieve this goal.”

There was almost no expectation among US officials that any of these problems could be solved simply by putting Biden and Xi in the same room. The possibility of a joint statement issued at a later time was deemed impossible.

The simple act of organizing the meeting itself required US and Chinese officials to establish lines of communication after Beijing angrily cut off most channels after a visit by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan during summer.

“All matters relating to this meeting, from phone calls to logistics, have been carefully considered, negotiated and settled between the two sides,” a senior administration official said.

Planning for Monday’s meeting came ahead of Pelosi’s visit, and talks between US and Chinese officials have continued despite anger at Beijing. The official said the process was “serious, very persistent, and professional in the best traditions of US-China diplomacy.”

A second official admitted that the talks that led to the meeting were not always cordial.

“I wouldn’t say the talks were not controversial because there are obviously many areas where we have differences and challenges,” the official said. “The dozens of hours we spent talking to our Chinese counterparts certainly brought up a lot of these issues.”

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For his part, Biden takes meetings like this “incredibly seriously” and does a lot of reading beforehand. In meetings with advisors, discuss different scenarios for how the meeting might end.

The first officer said, “He says, ‘If this happens, we have to deal with him in this way.'” He understands that this is, in many ways, the most important bilateral relationship. It is his responsibility to treat it well and he takes it very seriously.”

At Monday’s meeting, officials said they expected Biden’s top advisers to accompany him as part of his official delegation. They said they expected Xi to similarly surround himself with senior advisers, although the US team entered the meeting expecting to see some new faces on the Chinese side amid ongoing transmission within Xi’s inner circle.

Xi Jinping Biden

What do you expect from the meeting

Biden aides did not specify a time limit for the meeting, although Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said he expected the talks to last “a few hours” but could go on for longer.

It is a meeting on the sidelines of an international summit. So it’s not in itself some sort of summit where they meet in a third country or in Washington and Beijing.” “So, we didn’t put a time limit on the conversation.”

Sullivan said Biden would be “completely direct and direct” in the meeting, and he hoped Xi would be candid in return.

The most interesting thing for Biden and his aides is to establish a certain level of understanding with Xi about how the administration sees the relationship with China, and to learn from him how he sees relations with the United States moving forward.

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The White House used the phrase “building the floor” to describe the purpose of the talks, noting that Biden hopes to prevent relations from slipping further and that he sees room for improvement.

“We just have to figure out where the red lines are and what are the most important things for each of us in the next two years,” Biden told reporters Sunday in Cambodia, where he was attending summit meetings with Asian leaders before traveling to Bali. .

Speaking to a small group of reporters in Bali before the Biden meeting on Monday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted that the face-to-face meeting was aimed at stabilizing a fragile relationship, and detailed hope that would lay the groundwork. Bilateral economic relations.

“What I hope is that as a result of the president’s bilateral role with President Xi today, we will engage in more intense conversations in the future with our Chinese counterparts about the Chinese economy, global macroeconomic performance, and how policies in both the United States and China are moving forward. As in China affect those outcomes.”

For Xi, the trip to Bali also marks his first overseas trip since the start of the Covid pandemic, which has prompted the Chinese government to impose strict lockdowns and restrictions. Xi’s return to the physical world stage also comes on the heels of the Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing, where he secured a third term as a standards-breaking leader.

Even a week ago, a majority inside the White House had expected Biden to enter talks that had been relatively weakened by the Democrats’ midterm losses. But the better-than-expected results for Democrats made the president feel as if he was entering his meetings this week with the wind in his back, according to his top aides.

“I know I’ll come back stronger, but I don’t need to,” Biden said of his improved political fortunes on Saturday.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.