President Biden will hold a high-stakes virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday evening, the White House said, a meeting that comes as the relationship between the world’s two largest economies has become increasingly antagonistic.
“The two leaders will discuss ways to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC, as well as ways to work together where our interests align. Throughout, President Biden will make clear U.S. intentions and priorities and be clear and candid about our concerns with the PRC,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
It’s been a long time since the Chinese president last met with his U.S. counterpart: June 2019, when he sat down with former President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a G-20 summit in Japan.
Biden, who places a premium on face-to-face contact with foreign leaders, has had two phone calls with Xi so far. Xi has not traveled outside China since the start of the pandemic.
Biden has put China at the center of his foreign policy, and has said he has told Xi they need to cooperate in areas where it’s possible. “We expect him to play by the rules of the road,” Biden said earlier this month. “I want to make sure there’s no misunderstanding. It’s competition, not conflict.”
Trade, human rights, and national security are areas of tension
Tensions between the White House and Beijing are high over trade issues, human rights concerns, and national security. Meetings that lower-level Biden administration officials have had with their counterparts have not gone well.
But, the countries have been able to work together on some issues like climate. On Wednesday, they released a joint declaration on climate, saying they agreed to work together to reduce emissions, though the statement was short on details.
The last time Biden spoke with Xi in September, the White House said that Biden and Xi had a “broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge.”
The Trump administration launched a trade war with China, imposing stiff tariffs on Chinese goods. While Biden has not been as rhetorically aggressive toward China as his predecessor, Biden has kept the tariffs in place.
Earlier this year, the U.S. intelligence community named China as the top national security threat. China’s military actions in the South China Sea have led the U.S. to focus on partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific region, including a White House summit in September with the other leaders of the so called “Quad” countries: Japan, Australia and India.
In another sign of how seriously the White House is taking China as a threat, the U.S. took the rare step of sharing its nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia, which will enable its ally to travel further and with more stealth.
The U.S. has also reiterated its “rock solid” commitment to Taiwan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on countries to support Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations, a move that China strongly opposes.
Despite the tensions, Biden has often talked about his diplomatic ties to Xi. When he was vice president, Biden frequently met with Xi and said he developed a working relationship with him.
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