Biden and Xi Meet Amid Tensions, Hope for Easing Superpower Frictions

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet as US-China military, economic tensions grind on.

In a highly anticipated meeting, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday, marking the first encounter between the two leaders in a year. The meeting, conducted on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, aims to address a host of contentious issues straining U.S.-China relations, including military conflicts, drug trafficking, and the advancement of artificial intelligence.

Despite the high-profile nature of the meeting, officials from both nations have tempered expectations for significant breakthroughs. The array of topics on the agenda includes Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Israel-Hamas conflict, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea, and human rights concerns, all areas marked by longstanding disagreements.

The backdrop of the summit is complex, featuring Chinese economic challenges, territorial disputes, and a Middle Eastern conflict that has strained U.S. alliances. Demonstrations both for and against China’s ruling Communist Party, a rare sight for Xi, lined the route from the airport to the conference site, reflecting the tense atmosphere surrounding the visit.

U.S. President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One at San Francisco International Airport, as he arrives to attend the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S., November 14, 2023. REUTERS/Brittany Hosea

President Biden, leveraging a personal relationship with Xi developed over a dozen years, seeks to navigate through the adversarial nature of the bilateral ties. The meeting, held at a remote estate outside San Francisco chosen for its security and tranquility, represents a direct diplomatic effort by Biden, who views his rapport with Xi as crucial in managing the hostilities.

John Kirby, a White House spokesperson, encapsulated the anticipation surrounding the talks, stating, “The table has been set … over the course of many weeks for what we hope will be a very productive, candid, constructive conversation.”

Among the critical topics, Biden is expected to press Xi on China’s role in the Middle East, particularly regarding Iran’s actions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. U.S. concerns about Chinese interference in foreign elections and the status of American citizens detained in China are also on the agenda.

The meeting extends beyond geopolitical conflicts, with discussions anticipated on practical cooperation in areas like military communication, the opioid crisis (notably the flow of fentanyl, largely sourced from China), AI technology, trade, and climate issues.

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves as he arrives at San Francisco International Airport to attend the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S., November 14, 2023. REUTERS/Brittany Hosea

Domestically, Biden, at 80, leads a U.S. economy that has surpassed expectations post-COVID-19 pandemic, though he faces voter dissatisfaction at home. Internationally, he has rallied traditional allies against Russia’s actions in Ukraine, despite divergences over the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Xi, in contrast, has consolidated control over various sectors in China and faces economic challenges disrupting the country’s rapid growth trajectory. His policies and actions have fueled expectations of Beijing testing Washington’s focus in the Indo-Pacific region.

Biden’s message to Xi is expected to reaffirm U.S. commitments in the Indo-Pacific, addressing concerns raised by China’s activities in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea.

This pivotal meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies is not just a diplomatic engagement but a balancing act in a global landscape marked by deep-seated rivalries and mutual dependencies.