Diplomacy: Biden and Xi meet in California on Wednesday

For weeks the rumor mill was bubbling over whether China’s head of state Xi Jinping would travel to the USA to meet US President Joe Biden. Now the Americans are making things official.

US President Joe Biden and China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping will meet in California next week to stabilize the strained relations between the two countries. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, the US government announced.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing said Xi would travel to San Francisco from November 14 to 17 at the invitation of the US President. A meeting between the two presidents is planned.

Biden and Xi have not seen each other in person since the G20 summit a year ago in Bali, Indonesia. The US side said the aim of the conversation was to shape competition between the two countries responsibly, to secure communication channels and to avoid drifting into conflict.

The controversial topics

Relations between the largest economy, the USA, and the second largest, China, have long been very tense. A serious trade conflict, for example, is causing trouble. Biden left in place the punitive tariffs against China that his predecessor Donald Trump had introduced. The US also imposed export restrictions to deny China access to US technologies. A Chinese spy balloon over the USA at the beginning of the year significantly worsened the mood. Beijing’s stance in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is also met with criticism because China appears neutral to the outside world, but at the same time is considered Russia’s most important partner and thus provides Moscow with support. The war in Ukraine is likely to be a topic at the meeting, as is Israel’s war against the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The issue of Taiwan has great potential for conflict. The island republic, which is only separated from China by a strait, has had a democratic government for decades. However, Beijing sees the country with more than 23 million inhabitants as part of its territory. The area is often the scene of military demonstrations of power. There are concerns that China could invade Taiwan like Russia invaded Ukraine. Biden has promised Taiwan military support from US troops in such an event. Beijing, in turn, prohibits any American “interference” in domestic affairs.

Months of advances

The meeting between the two presidents was in the making for many months. Xi’s commitment was preceded by numerous meetings between high-ranking government members from both sides. Biden sent, among others, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to China. Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan met China’s chief diplomat Wang Yi in Vienna and Malta. Wang Yi finally traveled to Washington at the end of October. All of this was in preparation for a meeting of the bosses.

In the meantime, there was talk of a meeting between the two on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, in September. At that time, however, Xi sent Prime Minister Li Qiang as his deputy – presumably in response to the difficult relationship with neighboring India. So now the high-profile meeting is not taking place on independent territory, but on American soil.

The scenery

US government officials emphasized that the meeting was planned in the Bay Area, which includes the greater San Francisco area. They didn’t get any more specific. Xi was last in the USA in 2017: During that visit, he met then US President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Xi last traveled to San Francisco when he was still a young party official, said a high-ranking US government official. The location of the meeting alone offers different facets than a meeting in the capital. It is more than just a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a summit. The heads of state took a lot of time to talk in detail about a whole range of topics.

The two presidents

Biden and Xi have a long history together, beginning 12 years ago when they were both vice presidents. Biden boasts of his foreign policy experience and decades of connections with key international players. In speeches, he likes to say that he has spent more time with Xi than any other head of state or government. Since Biden became president, he has only met Xi once: at the G20 summit in Bali in November 2022. After that, there was radio silence between the two. They also haven’t spoken on the phone very often since Biden took office. The meeting in California was the seventh personal exchange between the two of them during Biden’s term in office, emphasized a US government official.

The expectations of the meeting

US government representatives initially dampened expectations. A list of results is not to be expected. “This is really about managing competition, reducing the risk of conflict and ensuring that communication channels are open.” The aim is to stabilize relationships. Even experts hardly expect any concrete results. China expert at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies Jude Blanchette said: “The point of the meeting is the meeting itself.”