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Biden, Xi Halfway Through Summit Aimed at Easing Relationship

US President Joe Biden meets with China's President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, November 15, 2021. Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping began their first face-to-face virtual summit, with both sides aiming to stabilize the relationship between the nations while downplaying expectations for major breakthroughs.

The video conference got under way about 8 p.m. on Monday night in Washington, hours after Biden signed bipartisan infrastructure legislation into law. Including time for translation of comments, White House officials said they expect the talks to last several hours. China’s state-run CCTV said the first half of the meeting ended after about two hours, with the two sides taking a 15-minute break before resuming the summit.

“I look forward to a candid and forthright discussion,” Biden told Xi after greeting the Chinese leader. He said their responsibility is to ensure that competition between the countries doesn’t veer into conflict.

U.S. reporters were permitted to observe the opening 10 minutes of their summit.

The two leaders should “be clear and honest where we disagree” and work together where their interests intersect, Biden said.

“We have a responsibility to the world as well as to our people,” Biden said. “All countries have to play by the same rules of the road.”

“If past is prologue, I’m sure we’ll be discussing areas where we have concerns” including human rights and the Indo-Pacific region, he said. But neither leader should have to wonder what the other is thinking after the meeting, Biden said.

Xi told Biden through an interpreter that “I’m very happy to see my old friend.” The U.S. president thanked him.

“We should each run our domestic affairs well, and at the same time, shoulder our share of international responsibilities and work together to advance the noble cause of world peace and development,” Xi said.

“This is a shared desire of the people of our two countries and around the world, a joint mission of Chinese and American leaders,” he added.

The two nations should work to find effective responses to global challenges including climate change and the pandemic, Xi said.

“China and the United States should respect each other, co-exist in peace, and pursue a win-win cooperation,” he said, adding that they should work “to build consensus, take active steps and move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction.”

The White House has framed the discussion as Biden’s effort to set the terms of the relationship, with a particular focus on avoiding unintended conflict. The president is expected to press Xi on issues including human rights and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. He will also bring up China’s non-market economic practices, such as industrial subsidies, though trade issues won’t dominate the conversation, U.S. officials said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday that relations are at a “critical crossroads” and Beijing hopes they will return “to the right track of healthy and steady development.” Xi may also press Biden to clarify U.S. strategy toward Taiwan, a self-governed island which Beijing considers part of its territory.

Markets will be watching to see if the summit helps defuse tensions that have built up between the world’s two biggest economies over a wide range of issues, including tariffs, sanctions and human rights.

U.S., China Seeking to Stabilize Ties With Biden-Xi Summit

Xi comes to the summit in a strong position politically, having cleared a major hurdle last week to securing a third term as Communist Party chief next year. The consolidation of power in China makes it only more pressing for Biden to engage Xi in a leader-to-leader conversation, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.

The Biden administration consulted allies and partners before the meeting and continued coordination is expected afterward as well, Psaki said.

The White House argues that Biden is also coming to the summit with a strong hand, having earlier Tuesday signed into law the $550 billion infrastructure bill that his administration says will boost America’s competitiveness with China.


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