Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping clashed Monday, Nov. 14, over Taiwan but found areas of common ground during the powers’ first in-person summit in three years, including a joint warning against Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Xi and Biden both sought to lower the temperature as they met for more than two hours on the resort island of Bali, with the presidents both saying they wanted to prevent high tensions from spilling over into conflict.
In a sign of headway on working together, the White House announced that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China — the most senior US visitor since 2018.
Biden and Xi, who is on only his second overseas trip since the pandemic, shook hands and smiled before the two countries’ flags at a hotel in Bali, where the Group of 20 opens a summit on Tuesday.
Biden, sitting across from Xi at facing tables, said that Beijing and Washington “share responsibility” to show the world that they can “manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming conflict”.
Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades who is fresh from securing a norm-breaking third term, told Biden that the world has “come to a crossroads”.
“The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle the relationship,” Xi told him.
Xi later told him that China and the United States “share more, not less” in common interests, according to a Chinese statement.
‘First red line’
Tensions have risen sharply over Taiwan, with China in August conducting major military exercises after a visit to the self-governing democracy, which it claims, by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Xi told Biden that Taiwan is the “first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations,” according to the Chinese foreign ministry statement.
The White House said that Biden told Xi he opposed any changes on Taiwan — after the US leader repeatedly indicated that Washington was ready to defend the island militarily.
Biden raised US “objections” to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region, and jeopardise global prosperity,” the White House said.
Despite the clash on Taiwan, the White House indicated it had found some common ground with China on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — a high priority for Biden who is hoping to deprive Moscow of its key potential source of international support.
Xi and Biden “reiterated their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” the White House statement said.
China, despite rhetorical support for Russia, has not supplied weapons for the war in Ukraine, with Moscow obliged to rely on Iran and North Korea, according to US officials.
Biden also nudged China to rein in ally North Korea after a record-breaking spate of missile tests has raised fears that Pyongyang will soon carry out its seventh nuclear test.
Biden told Xi that “all members of the international community have an interest in encouraging the DPRK to act responsibly,” the White House said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name.
Xi’s last in-person meeting with a US president was in 2019 with Donald Trump, who along with Biden identified China as a top international concern and the only potential challenger to US primacy on the world stage.
Although the meeting was the first time Xi and Biden have met as presidents, the pair have an unusually long history together.
By Biden’s estimation, he spent 67 hours as vice president in person with Xi including on a 2011 trip to China aimed at better understanding China’s then-leader-in-waiting, and a 2017 meeting in the final days of Barack Obama’s administration.
On Tuesday, Xi will hold the first formal sitdown with an Australian leader since 2017, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced, following a concerted pressure campaign by Beijing against the close US ally.
Though he is engaging Xi, Biden has refused since the invasion of Ukraine to deal directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is conspicuously absent from the Bali summit.
The Kremlin cited scheduling issues and has instead sent longtime foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who arrived Sunday evening and underwent two health checks at a Bali hospital, according to an Indonesian health ministry official.
Lavrov, 72, denied reports that he was receiving treatment at a Bali hospital, telling Tass news agency that he was in his hotel preparing for the summit.
Lavrov’s presence has thrown into question a customary G20 group photo and joint statement, with Russia sure to reject any explicit calls to end its invasion of Ukraine.