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Biden and Xi meet to ease strains in US-China relations

By Jake Beardslee · November 15, 2023

In brief…

  • Biden and Xi arranged a meeting to stabilize strained US-China relations and open communication channels.
  • Topics included Taiwan, human rights, climate, economics, nuclear issues.
  • Biden aims to manage competition responsibly and show talks defend US interests.
  • A fentanyl crackdown agreement could be a domestic political win.
Biden and Xi met to ease tensions on issues like Taiwan, climate, and human rights, with Biden hoping to show the talks benefit US interests.  The White House/Wikimedia

President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met Wednesday in an effort to stabilize the relationship between the two superpowers after months of rising tensions. The leaders did not expect a long list of concrete outcomes from the summit, with the primary goal simply being to open lines of communication, particularly military channels, according to CNN.

The meeting location was kept secret for security reasons. U.S. officials spent hours discussing logistics with Chinese counterparts. Despite a warm relationship as vice presidents, tensions have risen under Biden and Xi’s leadership.

“Now is precisely the time for high-level diplomacy,” said a senior administration official, CNN reported. “Intense competition requires and demands intense diplomacy to manage tensions and to prevent competition from verging into conflict or confrontation.”

U.S. officials have been working to restore military communication severed by China after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit. Biden was expected to raise this issue and the recent Chinese spy balloon he ordered shot down.

“There is no substitute for leader-to-leader engagement, face to face, to manage a complex relationship like the US-China relationship, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. The US and China are in competition. President Biden is trying to manage that competition responsibly, so it doesn’t tip over into conflict,” said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

The leaders planned to discuss tensions around Taiwan, China’s nuclear buildup, disinformation, human rights violations, climate change, narcotics trafficking and economic issues. Biden committed to defend Taiwan militarily if needed, but his aides walked back those remarks. The U.S. acknowledges China’s sovereignty claim over Taiwan while supporting Taiwan’s self-governance.

Biden told donors China has “real problems,” likely referencing economic issues like youth unemployment and a real estate crisis.

Ahead of the summit, Republicans questioned Biden’s decision to meet Xi. Biden aims to show the talks can “defend American interests and also deliver progress on the priorities of the American people.” An agreement cracking down on fentanyl production may provide a domestic political win.