Joe Biden will make it clear the US does not want a confrontation with Beijing during his meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Bali, but will insist on Washington’s commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, according to senior White House officials.
The summit is the first face-to-face meeting of leaders since Biden took office in January 2021. It will take place on the Indonesian island on Monday and comes amid rising tensions over Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that China claims as its territory and has promised “reunification,” by force if will be necessary.
Biden will outline US priorities regarding China’s “provocative” military actions near Taiwan, one of the officials said, adding that the main goal of the summit was to “reduce misunderstandings and misperceptions and establish steps that we believe will establish the rules of the road.”
Increased cooperation would not necessarily lead to significant progress on “harder issues” such as Taiwan, the official said. The goal is to “find ways to communicate” about these more difficult areas, “because the only thing worse than … contentious conversations is not having a conversation at all.”
Biden and Xi, whose last conversation was by phone in September, are not expected to make a diplomatic breakthrough but will instead try to “reset” the relationship between Washington and Beijing.
“We are in competition. President Biden accepts that, but he wants to make sure that competition is limited, that we build guardrails, that we have clear rules of the road, and that we do all of that to make sure that competition doesn’t escalate into conflict,” the senior White House official said.
The official, one of two who briefed reporters Monday morning, said Biden’s approach has the support of “allies and partners” in the region, including key allies Japan and South Korea. “There is broad support for our determination to build a foundation of relationships to increase responsible communication.”
Another senior official said: “Our view is that the lines of communication should be open. I expect that’s something that President Biden will make pretty clear to President Xi today: not just to open channels, but to empower key officials on both sides to really follow through on some of the important things that the presidents are going to talk about. “
China drew a lot of criticism in August after it held military exercises off the coast of Taiwan in angry response to a highly controversial visit to the island by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives. In September, Biden said that US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion – his most explicit statement on the issue yet – prompting another angry response from Beijing.
Relations between the superpowers have sunk to their lowest level in decades, marred by rising tensions over issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, coercive trade practices and US restrictions on Chinese technology.
Biden, buoyed by the military breakthrough in Ukraine and Democratic retention in the US Senate, said ahead of the summit that he and Xi would set “red lines” in their relationship.
But they won’t discuss specifics, according to White House officials, and they don’t need to release a joint statement. Biden is expected to speak to reporters in Bali after the meeting, which could last more than two hours, but it is unclear whether he will hold a full news conference.
Monday’s meeting is the result of dozens of hours of talks between US and Chinese officials over the past few months. Biden has held five phone and video calls with Xi since the start of 2021, but Monday’s talks will be their first in-person talks since 2017, when Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president. The last US president Xi met in person was Donald Trump in 2019.
“I know Xi Jinping, he knows me,” Biden said over the weekend, adding that they always had “direct conversations.”
Agencies contributed to the reporting.