By Alex Willemyns
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday entered only their second face-to-face talks since Biden took office, with military and trade expected to dominate but a deal also expected to stem the flow of fentanyl precursors out of China.
Biden greeted Xi with a handshake at Filoli, a country estate outside San Francisco boasting 16 acres of English Renaissance gardens on the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains. Both leaders then offered opening remarks before the press were asked to leave.
“Well, Mr. President, it’s good to see you again,” Biden said, adding that there is “no substitute to face-to-face discussions.”
“I value our conversation because I think it’s paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader-to-leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunication,” he said. “We have to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict, and we have to manage it responsibly.”
Xi also struck a conciliatory tone, saying China and the United States should strive to “coexist in peace” despite their differences.
“The China-U.S. relationship has never been smooth sailing over the past 50 years or more, and it always faces problems of one kind or another,” Xi said. “Yet it has kept moving forward.”
“For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option,” the Chinese president added. “Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed, and one country’s success is an opportunity for the other.”
Both Xi and Biden are in San Francisco for this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit, which has been headlined by their plans to meet amid tense times for U.S.-China relations.
“What we’re trying to do is change the relationship for the better,” Biden said while leaving Washington on Tuesday, adding he wanted to help “the Chinese people, who are in trouble right now economically.”
A senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Biden-Xi summit ahead of time, said that “the resumption of military contacts” would be a key U.S. objective at the summit.
Chinese military leaders have for months rejected any communications with their U.S. counterparts, who have in turn decried the dangers of an inability to seek clarity over near accidentsbetween the two militaries in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea.
“We want to see operational dialogue, we want to see policy dialogue at the highest level, and we want to see the operational commanders have a dialogue about operations in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
Trade ties, including on microchips, would also feature, the official added, and Xi’s delegation is expected to unveil a “package” meant to stem the outflow from China of precursors for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid called the leading killer of Americans aged 18 to 49.
“What the Chinese are going to be discussing are very large numbers of law enforcement moves that will address a comprehensive network in China,” he said. “We believe that this is significant.”
‘At the very top’
The White House official said Xi’s accumulation of personal powerwithin the Chinese system of government “over the last several years” meant that lower-level diplomacy was often not fruitful, meaning the direct talks were taking on a higher level of importance than usual.
“Frankly, if you really have to do serious diplomacy, it has to take place at the very top,” he said. “So the stakes really just couldn’t be higher.”
The Filoli talks will mirror Biden and Xi’s meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, a year ago, with a handshake followed by an hours-long meeting with advisers behind closed doors.
Biden is then set to hold a solo press conference.
Xi, who had only left China two times this year prior to this trip, will return to downtown San Francisco, where he is expected to address top U.S. business leaders at a dinner at the Hyatt Regency.
The Chinese president is staying at the nearby St. Regis Hotel, where dozens of supporters gathered along the road Tuesday evening amid a strong police presence to welcome the Chinese president to the city.
A handful of protesters also turned out, but were effectively harassed out of the area by Xi’s supporters who surrounded them with Chinese flags and loudspeakers playing the Chinese national anthem on loop. Police intervened only when the protesters were directly attacked.
But American officials have been more tempered in the lead-up to Xi’s visit, refraining from any language that could interfere with the carefully choreographed meeting.
Still, Biden’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, told reporters on Wednesday morning before the talks that U.S. officials “routinely” raise human rights in meetings with their Chinese counterparts, and said Biden himself “never shies away from that” with Xi.
“You can fully expect that the president will raise our concerns over human rights in China, including the issue of the Uyghurs,” he said, adding he would also “make it very clear to Xi … that the United States would continue to provide for self-defense capabilities for Taiwan.”