Biden, Xi meeting will be forum for ‘intense diplomacy’ amid tensions between US, China: Officials

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President Biden is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week in California— a meeting that officials hope will ease tensions in the bilateral relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and one that comes at a time in need of ‘intense diplomacy.’

The meeting is set to take place in San Francisco’s Bay Area on Wednesday Nov. 15. Senior administration officials said the specifics of the location will not be shared ‘for operational security reasons.’

The White House says Biden and Xi are expected to discuss the relationship between the United States and China, including the importance of maintaining ‘open lines of communication.’

A senior administration official said the two leaders will also discuss ‘managing competition responsibly,’ along with a range of regional, global and transnational issues, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, and the growing conflicts in the Middle East.

‘There will be a conversation on North Korea about some of our concerns with respect to the relationship with Russia in Ukraine,’ a senior official said. ‘I think with respect to the Middle East, I believe that the president will underscore our desire for China to make clear in its burgeoning relationship with Iran that it is essential that Iran not seek to escalate or spread violence in the Middle East, and to warn, quite clearly, that if Iran undertakes provocative actions anywhere, that the United States is prepared to respond and respond promptly.’

The two are also expected to discuss additional ‘potentially contentious’ topics, including election interference, with Biden planning to warn Xi about potential election influence operations.

The meeting this week will be the second in-person meeting between Biden and Xi since the beginning of the Biden administration in January 2021, but the ‘seventh interaction,’ the official said.

Biden and Xi last met in Nov. 2022 on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, where they agreed more direct communication between U.S. and Chinese leadership was desirable. 

‘Both leaders have a long-standing relationship that began when they were both vice presidents,’ the official said. ‘They have known each other for roughly a dozen years.’ 

Officials said that in the last eight months, the Biden administration has been working to ‘restore diplomatic interaction.’ In that time period, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Chinese Director Wang Yi three times; Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo have traveled to Beijing; and China has sent its vice president, foreign minister and other senior officials to the United States for meetings.

‘At the start of this administration, the PRC was convinced that the United States was in terminal decline,’ the official said. ‘Around the world, there were doubts about our staying power, our economic vitality, our commitment to our allies, and the health of our democracy.’ 

The official added: ‘Much of that has changed under President Biden’s leadership.’

‘Over the last nearly three years, the administration surveyed the strategic landscape, assessed the challenge and took a series of purposeful strategic steps both at home and abroad in a diplomatic context that we think is sustaining,’ the official continued.

But the meeting between Biden and Xi Wednesday comes at a critical time— a time that Biden administration officials say is ripe for ‘high-level diplomacy.’

‘First, we are going into this meeting with game-changing investments in American strength at home through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Chips and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act,’ the official explained. ‘ Second, we’re going into this meeting having deepened our alliances and partnerships abroad in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.’

The official added: ‘After investing at home and strengthening ties with allies and partners abroad, now is precisely the time for high-level diplomacy.’

The Biden administration says its approach is ‘steady and consistent.’

‘We’re not stepping back from our interests and values. We’re moving forward on them,’ a senior official said, while stressing they are ‘clear-eyed about this.’

‘We also believe that intense competition requires and demands intense diplomacy, to manage tensions and to prevent competition from verging into conflict or confrontation,’ an official said. ‘We expect China to be around and to be a major player on the world stage for the rest of our lifetimes.’

Biden administration senior officials say that the meeting keeps in line with the United States’ ‘decades of experience’ in talking to and ‘working with competitors when our interests call for it.’

‘And this meeting with President Xi is in keeping with that tradition in American statecraft,’ an official said. ‘And at this meeting, I think you can expect us to draw on that experience as we both stabilize the relationship and deliver in material, tangible ways for the American people.’

The goal of the meeting, an official said, is not to return with ‘deliverables,’ but rather to ensure the administration is ‘managing the competition, preventing the downside risk of conflict and ensuring channels of communication are open.’

One critical line of discussion, officials said, will be regarding open lines of communication between U.S. and Chinese military channels—especially in light of the Chinese surveillance balloon that traversed the continental United States in February.

‘This is absolutely critical. And when we’re talking about managing risks, about avoiding conflict, this is exactly the sort of communication we need to be having, both at senior levels of our two militaries, but also operator to operator,’ the official said. ‘The balloon comes up often in the context of the need for communications between our two sides. And I think the balloon episode underscored the difficulty we had at the time to be able to establish high level, consequential communications with Beijing.’

‘We’ve made that case persistently and consistently,’ the official continued. ‘I think you can expect the President to raise the broad parameters of ‘mil to mil’ engagement with President Xi next week.’

The official said that Biden and administration officials have raised the issue in ‘every encounter.’

‘I think it is fair to say that the Chinese have been reluctant. And so the president is going to press assertively next week,’ the official said.

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