President Biden’s highly anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping is set for next Wednesday in the San Francisco Bay Area, senior US administration officials said, setting up a test of whether the two men can slow a downward spiral in relations at a moment of heavy global turbulence.
The talks aren’t likely to produce a major thaw in the world’s most consequential bilateral relationship. Instead, the fact that the meeting is happening at all is viewed by White House aides as a positive sign after months of friction. US officials said the leaders hoped to develop a “framework” for managing successful competitive relations between the two powers, with the goal of clearing up misperceptions and avoiding surprises.
Still, the officials said Biden’s aides were entering the summit with realistic expectations and don’t anticipate a long list of outcomes afterward.
Facing a cascading conflict in the Middle East and a grinding war in Ukraine, Biden is eager to prevent another world crisis from exploding on his watch. Restoring a degree of stability to the Washington-Beijing relationship has been among his top foreign policy priorities, even as global tensions flare.
The list of issues expected to arise in the talks is long. It includes restoring military-to-military communication between the two countries, a chief objective for Biden, who plans to press Xi on the issue. Also on the table are the conflicts in Israel and Ukraine; areas of potential cooperation like climate change and countering narcotics trafficking; and deep disagreements over human rights issues and military escalation in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.
The meeting, which will occur amid a large gathering of Pacific leaders in California, has been months in the making and required intensive preparations on both sides. American officials expected China to formally announce Xi’s participation Friday morning Eastern Time. The US officials said the talks would be expansive and spread out over multiple working sessions.
Despite a deep and apparently warm personal relationship cultivated during their time as vice presidents, Biden and Xi have overseen a deterioration in US-China relations to the lowest level in decades.
The sticking points include Taiwan, the self-governing island that China’s Communist Party claims as its own, and which it has vowed to take by force if necessary. The island will hold an election in January, ramping up sensitivities around its status.
The relationship has also been strained by new limits Biden imposed on advanced technology exported to China in the name of protecting US national security. And the US has pressured China to play a more constructive role in both the Israel-Hamas conflict and the Russia-Ukraine war, encouraging the country to step up its role on the world stage.
“Right now, neither the United States nor China are entering the meeting between President Biden and President Xi expecting to significantly improve or reset the relationship,” said Bonny Lin, director of the China Power Project and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Rather, the meeting will be about managing and stabilizing the bilateral relationship, improving communication, and reducing misunderstandings before they occur.”
Wednesday’s summit will be only the second time Biden and Xi have met in person over the last three years. They last came face-to-face a year ago on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali. That meeting was intended to establish a baseline for the relationship amid heightened economic and military tension.
Departing the Indonesian island, the two sides did appear on track to engage in more regular talks. But months later, a standoff over a suspected Chinese spy balloon scuttled hopes for normalizing ties.
Following a visit to Taiwan last summer by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Beijing abruptly cut off communication with the US military, causing worry among American officials about the prospect of miscommunication or miscalculation in the tense contested areas of the South China Sea or around Taiwan.
Attempts to restore the military channels have been halting, even as a steady stream of Biden administration officials have visited Beijing, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
But signs of improvement have emerged in recent weeks, and American officials are hopeful the summit will lead to reopening military communication.
Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Washington and met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Biden at the White House.
Ahead of next week’s meeting, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen invited Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng, known as the country’s “economic tsar,” for a two-day meeting starting Thursday.
And this week a senior Chinese official said Beijing is ready to improve ties with Washington. Recent high-level meetings have sent out “positive signals and raised the expectations of the international community on the improvement of China-US relations,” Vice President Han Zheng said during a Bloomberg forum in Singapore.
“We are ready to strengthen the communication and dialogue with the United States at all levels, promote mutually beneficial cooperation, properly manage differences, and jointly address global challenges,” Han said.