Biden, Xi use first in-person summit to reaffirm respective “red lines”

Posted on : 2022-11-15 16:50 KST Modified on : 2022-11-15 17:16 KST
Biden reportedly related to Xi that China had an obligation to give Pyongyang a message that it shouldn’t test long-range missiles or nuclear weapons
President Xi Jinping of China shakes hands with US President Joe Biden on Nov. 14 after their first in-person summit in Bali. (Reuters/Yonhap)
President Xi Jinping of China shakes hands with US President Joe Biden on Nov. 14 after their first in-person summit in Bali. (Reuters/Yonhap)

The world watched with bated breath as US President Joe Biden shared an eight-second handshake with his “old friend,” Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Shortly afterward, Xi’s interpreter conveyed a message from him to Biden. CNN reported that the message appeared to be “Good to see you.”

At 5:30 pm on Monday, Biden met with Xi at the luxury Mulia Hotel on the southern coast of Bali, the setting for the G-20 Summit. Biden was coming off of a significant victory for his Democratic Party in the US midterm elections on Nov. 8 and had taken steps to beef up trilateral cooperation with China’s neighbors South Korea and Japan, while Xi had reinforced his system of “one-person rule” when he locked down a third term as president last month.

Biden had spoken with Xi five times by videoconference and telephone since his inauguration in January 2021, but this was their first face-to-face meeting. It was also the first time the US and Chinese leaders shook hands in three years and five months, the last such occasion having come in Osaka in June 2019.

In addition to the two leaders, eight other people on each side were present at the meeting site, where three US and Chinese flags were hung in alternating sequence.

Sitting on either side of Biden were US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and national security advisor Jake Sullivan, among others. Accompanying Xi to the left and right were officials including Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Ding Xuexiang, Politburo member and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and National Development and Reform Commission head He Lifeng.

Sharing a relationship with Xi that dates back over a decade to 2011, Biden’s first words to him on Monday were about the “importance of communication” and “responsibility.”

Stressing the importance of keeping lines of communication open both at a personal level between the two of them and across their governments, Biden said that both of them shared responsibilities as leaders of major world powers.

He also said he believed the US and China were capable of showing the way to work together on global issues that required mutual cooperation, while managing the differences between them and preventing competition from turning into conflict.

In response, Xi said the current state of China-US relations did not align with the fundamental interests of either side or their publics, or with the expectations of the international community.

Reiterating his desire to exchange views frankly and in depth on strategic issues in China-US relations as well as key international and regional matters, Xi said he hoped to benefit both sides and the world in general by restoring that relationship to a healthy and stable development track.

In a press readout issued after the summit, the White House said the two leaders had “spoke[n] candidly about their respective priorities and intentions across a range of issues,” explaining that Biden had raised concerns related to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and North Korea.

The readout also said Biden had explained in detail that the US’ “one China policy has not changed” and that it “opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side” when it comes to Taiwan.

At the same time, Biden was also quoted as voicing concerns about China’s oppressive and aggressive actions against Taiwan and its “non-market economic practices.”

According to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, Xi responded by saying that Taiwan issues were “at the very core of China's core interests,” stressing that they were the “first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations.”

During their meeting, the two leaders reached an agreement on two areas: restoring high-level communication channels that were cut off in the wake of a Taiwan visit by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi last August, and underscoring their “opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.” The White House also said Blinken had agreed to visit China to “follow up on their discussions.”

With the two sides involved in an intense strategic competition, the first in-person meeting between the two leaders saw them managing to find common ground in their support of maintaining communication channels and the opposition to the use of nuclear weapons.

On the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program, Biden emphasized the need for responsible action by Pyongyang and the US’ ironclad commitment to defending allies in the Indo-Pacific region. When asked about China’s role on the North Korean nuclear and missile issues during a press conference after the summit, Biden said it was “difficult to say that I am certain that China can control North Korea.”

“I’ve made it clear to President Xi Jinping that I thought they had an obligation to attempt to make it clear to North Korea that they should not engage in long-range nuclear tests,” he continued.

Commenting on the possibility of Pyongyang ratcheting up tensions with a nuclear test or other means, he said that the US “would have to take certain actions that would be more defensive on our behalf,” adding that it “would not be directed against China, but it would be to send a clear message to North Korea.”

Finally, Biden commented on the US’ relationship with China in general, stressing that the two sides were “going to compete vigorously.”

“But I’m not looking for conflict, I’m looking to manage this competition responsibly,” he continued.

When asked if he thought China was going to invade Taiwan, he replied, “I do not think there’s any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan.”

While the two leaders’ dialogue lasted for more than three hours, it did not produce any joint statement or other agreement. As the first in-person meeting between them, the summit’s significance appeared to be as an occasion for reaffirming the “red lines” that the other side should not cross.

By Choi Hyun-june, Beijing correspondent; Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

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