A virtual meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping opened with leaders exchanging friendly remarks despite what has been troubling times for the Chinese Communist Party’s relationship with many countries around the world.
Via translators, the two leaders—on Monday night in the United States, and Tuesday morning in China—restated their hopes for the first virtual summit of the Biden presidency and for the future of U.S.-China relations.
Biden outlined that “the United States is always going to stand up for our interests and values, and those of our allies and partners” in a world where “all countries have to play by the same rules,” while Xi outlined his view that, as the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China will “shoulder our share of international responsibilities and work together for the most noble cause of world peace and development.”
Biden also mentioned the U.S. view that conflict needs to be avoided, the need for some “common sense guardrails,” as well as “clear and honest” discussion on points of contention—like human rights, economics, and ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific—and mutual cooperation on issues where there are shared views, like climate change.
Senior U.S. officials had told reporters before the talks that Biden would use the meeting to directly tell Xi that the U.S. holds concerns about China’s “coercive and provocative behavior with respect to Taiwan.”
The two powers have widely divergent views on Taiwan, with the CCP expressing through its state-run media outlet China Daily that it hoped Biden could come out of the meeting realizing Beijing’s resolve to “realize national reunification in the foreseeable future no matter the cost.”
Meanwhile, Xi, addressing Biden as “my old friend,” said he hoped for increased communication and cooperation.
“A sound and steady China-U.S. relationship is required for advancing our two countries’ respective development and for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment, including finding effective responses to global challenges such as climate change, which you referenced, and the COVID pandemic,” Xi said.
“I stand ready to work with you, Mr. President, to build consensus, take active steps, and move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction. Doing so would advance the interests of our two peoples and meet the expectation of the international community.”
Following the early public comments, which started shortly after 7:45 p.m, the two leaders, accompanied by their top aides, ended their feeds and moved to speak privately in a meeting that stretched for several hours, concluding around 11 p.m. ET.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki had earlier indicated that the Biden administration was not expecting this one meeting to be delivering any major outcomes, downplaying any expectations of concrete trade agreements, where China is lagging in a commitment to buy $200 billion more in U.S. goods and services.
U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods were not on the White House’s agenda for the meeting.
The United States and Beijing disagree on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade and competition rules, the CCP’s expanding nuclear arsenal, the CCP’s treatment of political dissidents, minorities, and rights activists, and its stepped-up pressure on Taiwan, among other issues.
Before the friendly exchange, Biden last week had criticized Xi’s decision to skip the G20 Summit in Rome, saying it was a “big mistake” as “the rest of the world is going to look to China and say, what value added have they provided.” The Chinese Communist Party has publicly stated its ambitions to challenge the United States as global leader.
China also refused to commit to any further greenhouse gas commitments at the COP26 climate conference, beyond its pledge to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060. However, this is likely to see global temperatures rise beyond the 1.5°C limit that COP26 had been hoping to avoid. Former U.S. President Barack Obama said that Xi’s absence from the conference was “particularly discouraging.”
The virtual meeting was initiated by Biden following less-than-productive meetings between senior U.S. and Chinese officials since he came into office. Biden and Xi last spoke on Sept. 9 in a 90-minute conversation that focused on economic issues, climate change, and COVID-19.
Reuters contributed to this report.