Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met on Monday, November 14, for a much-anticipated face-to-face, with the US president saying he wanted to avoid a “conflict” between Beijing and Washington. After a handshake, Joe Biden expressed his intention to “manage differences and prevent competition from turning into conflict”. Xi Jinping, in turn, said he was ready for a dialogue “sincere” on strategic issues, because the two countries must “finding the right direction”.
It’s their first one-on-one since Mr. Biden took over the White House. The two heads of state were due to have a long interview on the Indonesian island of Bali, on the eve of the G20 summit, which brings together the world’s largest economies.
The absence of Vladimir Putin from this international meeting, nine months after the launch of the war in Ukraine, focuses even more attention on the Chinese president, at the height of his power after achieving a historic third term. It is his second trip abroad since the beginning of the pandemic, after a visit to Central Asia in September.
Ukraine as background
Over the past three years, the rivalry between the world’s two largest economies has intensified as China has grown in power and assertiveness, challenging US leadership and the geopolitical game since the end of World War II. Monday’s meeting on the sidelines of the G20 flavors of the Cold War and the White House spoke of the need to establish “red lines” of both countries to have “safeguards” and avoid devolving into conflict, according to a White House official.
The two presidents have spoken by phone or video five times since Mr. Biden entered the White House, but never face-to-face. Beijing hoped on Monday that the interview would restore bilateral relations “on the right way”. In addition to China’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion, the two major powers are at odds over issues ranging from trade to human rights in China’s Xinjiang region to the status of Taiwan.
In particular, Joe Biden wants to pressure Beijing to use its influence to moderate North Korea, which has just launched a record series of missile launches that appear to be preparing for the 7th.e nuclear test in its history. Xi Jinping will probably not be willing to show understanding, and this meeting should set the tone for the G20 summit, which takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday. If Ukraine is not officially on the agenda, the war started by Russia and its consequences on the food and energy markets will be in the background of all negotiations.
Poutine conspicuously absent
The Russian president, who is represented by his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is absent from the meeting, which is being held as the Russian army withdraws from southern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will speak via video conference.
At the very least, Joe Biden and his allies want to send a clear message to Vladimir Putin at the summit that a nuclear conflict is unacceptable. Any joint text is likely to be blocked by Russian opposition as well as Beijing’s refusal to deviate from the Russian position or appear to give up on Washington. As host of the summit, Indonesia has already warned that one should not necessarily expect the traditional final joint communiqué that concludes this kind of meeting.
During a meeting with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the Indonesian president called for “flexibility” Europeans and the G7 to get an agreement. “I want a concrete result from the G20 that the world is waiting for” and “Your support will once again be greatly appreciated”Joko Widodo said, according to a statement.
Russia is expected to be under pressure to extend a deal allowing grain and fertilizer exports through Black Sea ports, long blocked by war in Ukraine, which expires on 19 November.