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Biden to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks via video with other national leaders at the recent G20 summit.
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks via video with other national leaders at the recent G20 summit. (Yue Yuewei/AP)

President Biden will convene a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, the White House announced on Friday, a conversation that will take place amid a fresh deal between the two nations to cooperate on climate but persistent tensions over Taiwan, trade, human rights and other issues.

In a statement confirming the long-anticipated summit, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden and Xi will discuss how to “responsibly manage the competition” between the two nations, as well as avenues “to work together where our interests align.”

“Throughout, President Biden will make clear U.S. intentions and priorities and be clear and candid about our concerns with” China, Psaki said. The meeting — the third direct engagement between the two leaders since Biden became president in January — will be held in the evening, and a joint statement is not expected after it concludes.

Xi has not left China since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and he was absent from a pair of recent high-profile global summits in Italy and Scotland. His nonappearance at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow was especially notable because China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

China this week cleared a resolution that would allow Xi to stay in power until at least 2027, underlining his formidable role as a powerful leader of the increasingly influential country.

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In a news conference at the climate summit, Biden said it was a “big mistake” that China did not attend, adding that the United States, by coming to the summit, left a “profound impact” on the international perception of its leadership role on climate.

“The rest of the world is going to look to China and say, ‘What value added are they providing?’ ” Biden said during the news conference closing out his appearance in Glasgow. “They’ve lost an ability to influence people around the world and all the people here at COP.”

Still, the U.S. and China surprised the globe this week with a joint announcement on climate, saying they would collaborate on efforts to slow global warming by boosting clean energy initiatives, combating deforestation and curbing methane emissions.

One of Biden’s top foreign policy goals has been to shift the focus of the United States and its allies toward countering China, rather than issues like Middle East terrorism, which the administration sees as a diminished threat.

In the first 10 months of his presidency, Biden officials have repeatedly emphasized that the relationship between the United States and China is one of competition but not conflict. At the same time, U.S. officials have made clear that “we believe intense competition requires intense diplomacy,” a senior administration official said Friday.

China, for its part, has been angry at U.S. efforts to emphasize its close ties with Taiwan, and Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei called a recent visit by American lawmakers there “sneaky.” “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will stay on high alert at all times and take all necessary measures to resolutely smash any interference by external forces and ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist plots,” he said in a statement.

Biden, who campaigned for the White House in part by touting his deep and extensive ties with global leaders, got to know Xi starting in 2011, when he was tapped by the Obama administration to develop a relationship with the man poised to become China’s next leader.

“He feels that the history of their relationship — having spent time with him — allows him to be quite candid, as he has been in the past and he will continue to be as we look ahead to next week,” Psaki told reporters during a White House briefing Friday.

Since he took office, Biden has spent about five or six hours on the phone with Xi, the U.S. president has said, and stressed that while there is “no reason there needs to be conflict,” he expects Xi to “play by the rules of the road.”

Biden and Xi speak for a second time

“We’re not going to change our attitude toward what constitutes international airspace, international sea lanes, etcetera,” Biden said during the Glasgow news conference.

The senior administration official said on Friday that the virtual summit is not expected to produce specific outcomes, but rather will set the “terms of an effective competition where we are in the position to defend our values and interests and those of our allies and partners.”  

Psaki declined to elaborate on specific items on the agenda for the meeting. But a prominent area of tension between the United States and China is Taiwan, particularly after a recent escalations in confrontations between Beijing and the self-governing island. At a CNN-hosted town hall in Baltimore last month, Biden was asked if the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, and he responded, “Yes, we have a commitment.”

The White House since clarified that there had been no change in the United States’ policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan.

Still another flash point is human rights, particularly the massive crackdown by China against the Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority group in the Xinjiang region, an action the State Department has said amounts to genocide.