Ahead of a G20 summit meeting in Bali, Indonesia, President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met face-to-face for three hours for the first time since Biden assumed power in January 2021. Over the last year, relations between the two countries have deteriorated to a low not seen since the 1970s. The goal of the two leaders was to restore dialogue and stability.
Instead of striking new deals and expanding economic and business ties, Biden and Xi appear to be putting the two powers on a new course. Their meeting revealed the focus is now on managing competition, preventing conflict, and finding common ground when possible. Among the topics discussed were Taiwan, technology, and human rights.
Strength Versus Weakness
While issues are important, so is imagery on the world scene. In October, the 20th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress re-elected Xi to an unprecedented third term and made him the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. In a telling sign of his thinking, Xi said to the communist party, “the East [China] is rising while the West [the US] is declining.”
Biden is experiencing a different turmoil at home as the United States is deeply divided, the GOP flipped the House, and former President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday, November 15, he’s running for president in 2024 — setting up a bruising and potentially polarizing presidential campaign season.
Regardless, the president stated his meeting with Xi was “open and candid” and said he was blunt with the communist leader. Two issues of importance stood out that Biden stuck to his views on.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) considers Taiwan a breakaway province. During a press conference after the gathering, the commander in chief said he didn’t anticipate the PRC would invade the island nation; that’s despite Xi saying weeks earlier he would “reunify” the democratic island with the mainland. The Chinese leader has said he wouldn’t “renounce the use of force.”
While saying he didn’t believe China would attack Taiwan, a White House readout said Biden objected to the military’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan.” Both nations have recently been preparing for a conflict over the small island. Just a week ago, Xi told his military to “focus all its energy on fighting.” Still, the US president stated Xi understood he would defend Taiwan if the Chinese attacked it.
The official readout also stated that Biden raised concerns about the country’s human rights practices. It singled out actions by the communist state in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as broad human rights. The Chinese have repeatedly warned against other countries involving themselves in their internal affairs.