Biden, Xi hold ‘candid’ discussion amid high tensions

President Biden met virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday evening for what he described as a “candid and forthright discussion” about how to manage competition between the two countries.

“As I’ve said before, it seems to be our responsibility — as leaders of China and the United States — to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended. Just simple, straightforward competition,” Biden said as he opened the meeting.

“It seems to me we need to establish a commonsense guardrail, to be clear and honest where we disagree and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change,” Biden said.

Biden emphasized the need for all countries to “play by the same rules of the road.” He indicated he would raise issues where U.S. officials have “concerns,” including human rights and economic issues and Indo-Pacific security.

Speaking through a translator, Xi said he was “very happy to see my old friend” and emphasized that “China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other top Biden administration officials were on hand for the meeting, which took place in the Roosevelt Room via video conference. Two television screens were set up in the room displaying Xi. Several Chinese government officials also joined the video call.

The meeting, which was expected to run several hours, punctuates high tensions between the U.S. and China on economic and security issues. Going into the meeting, Biden was expected to raise concerns with China’s unfair economic practices, aggressive military activity near Taiwan and human rights abuses. U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods and supply chain issues were not expected to be main topics of conversation.

Biden and Xi have a history with one another, having spent hours together when they were both vice presidents. White House officials insisted that the relationship gave Biden a leg up headed into the meeting.

“The president feels that he’s able to have candid discussions with President Xi, someone … with whom he can raise directly areas where we have concern, whether it’s security issues, whether it’s economic issues, whether it is human rights issues,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a Monday afternoon briefing.

The closely watched meeting will be a test for Biden’s approach to China. Biden has made countering China’s influence and outcompeting Beijing on the world stage a central argument for his economic and foreign policy agendas. At the same time, the Biden administration wants to work with China to curb global warming and address global health.

Officials lowered expectations for any specific deliverables ahead of the meeting, saying Biden’s intention was to deepen communication with China to ensure that competition between the countries does not escalate into conflict. 

Tensions flared between the two countries recently as China stepped up military flights into Taiwan’s airspace. Last month, Biden pledged to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from China.

Tags Antony Blinken Jake Sullivan Janet Yellen Jen Psaki Joe Biden

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