Biden, Xi to meet face-to-face amid superpower tensions

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NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AP) — President Joe Biden is set to sit down with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday for their first face-to-face meeting since the US president took office almost two years ago, amid rising tensions between the two superpowers as they struggle with each other compete global influence.

Both men arrive with strengthened political positions at home for the much-anticipated meeting taking place on the sidelines of the Group of 20 World Leaders Summit in Indonesia. Democrats triumphantly retained control of the Senate and had a chance to climb their ranks by one in a runoff in Georgia next month, while Xi was awarded a third five-year term by the Community Party’s national congress in October, a term who broke with tradition.

“We have very few misunderstandings,” Biden told reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he was attending a gathering of Southeast Asian nations before leaving for Indonesia. “We just need to figure out where the red lines are and … what’s most important to each of us over the next two years.”

Biden added, “To state the obvious, his circumstances have changed at home.” The president said of his own situation, “I know I’m coming in stronger.”

White House officials have repeatedly tried to downplay any notion of conflict between the two nations, stressing that they believe the two countries can work together on common challenges such as climate change and health security.

But US-China relations have become increasingly strained during Biden’s presidency.

Before leaving Washington, Biden said he plans to address with Xi differences in their approach to the self-governing island of Taiwan, trade practices and China’s relationship with Moscow amid its nearly nine-month-old invasion of Ukraine. Chinese officials have largely refrained from public criticism of the Russian war, although Beijing has avoided direct support such as arms sales.

Taiwan has become one of the most contentious issues between Washington and Beijing. Biden has said multiple times during his presidency that the US would defend the island — which China is targeting for eventual unification — in the event of a Beijing-led invasion. But government officials have each time stressed that the US stance of “strategic ambiguity” towards the island has not changed.

Tensions flared further when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited Taiwan in August, prompting China to retaliate with military exercises and launching ballistic missiles into nearby waters.

The Biden administration also blocked exports of advanced computer chips to China last month – a move intended to increase US competition against Beijing and which Chinese officials were quick to condemn.

And although the two men have had five phone or video calls during Biden’s presidency, White House officials say those encounters are no substitute for Biden being able to meet and assess Xi in person. This task is all the more important after Xi strengthened his hold on power through the party convention and US officials are seeking direct cooperation with Xi as lower-level officials have been unable or unwilling to speak for the Chinese president.

White House officials and their Chinese counterparts have spent weeks negotiating all the details of the meeting, which will be held at Xi’s hotel with translators providing simultaneous interpretation through headphones.

Biden and Xi each plan to bring small delegations into the discussion, with US officials expecting Xi to bring newly appointed government officials to the meetings and expressing hope this could lead to more substantive engagements later.

Before meeting Xi, Biden first met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who is hosting the G-20 summit, to announce a range of new development initiatives for the archipelagic nation, including investments in climate, security and education.

Many of Biden’s conversations and engagements during his three-country tour – which took him to Egypt and Cambodia before landing on the island of Bali on Sunday – were intentionally designed to prepare him for his meeting with Xi and send a signal to the US would compete in areas where Xi has also worked to expand his country’s influence.

In Phnom Penh, Biden sought to assert US influence and engagement in a region where China has a foothold and where many nations feel allied with Beijing. He also sought opinions on what to raise with Xi in talks with leaders from Japan, South Korea and Australia.

The two men have a history dating back to Biden’s time as vice president, when he embarked on a meeting with Xi, then-vice president of China, on trips that took Xi to Washington and Biden through trips with the Tibetan Plateau . The US President has stressed that he knows Xi well and wants to use this face-to-face meeting to better understand where the two men stand.

Biden was happy to slip hints of his talks with Xi into his travels around the US ahead of the midterm elections, and used the Chinese leader’s preference for autocratic governance to make his own case to voters as to why democracy should prevail. That view was somewhat vindicated on the global stage, when White House officials said several world leaders reached out to Biden during his time in Cambodia to tell him they were closely monitoring the outcome of the midterm elections and that the results were a triumph for democracy.

Biden planned to make public remarks and answer questions from reporters after his meeting with Xi.

AP writer Josh Boak in Washington contributed.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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