BALI, Indonesia — Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held their first face-to-face meeting as presidents of the U.S. and China on Monday evening — a summit that lasted over three hours. The leaders promised to work together on global issues, but stuck to their talking points on Taiwan.
“I’m committed to keeping the lines of communications open,” Biden said in Bali, “[not only] between you and me personally but our governments across the board, because our two countries … have so much that we have an opportunity to deal with.”
Noting that the world expects the two countries to work together to address global challenges such as climate change and food insecurity, the president said: “The United States stands ready to do just that — work with you — if that’s what you desire.”
Xi, for his part, said great changes are unfolding in ways like never before and “the world has come to a crossroads.” The state of the China-U.S. relationship, in such a critical moment, “is not in the fundamental interests of the two nations and it is not what the international community expects,” he said.
“As leaders of the two major countries, we need to chart the right course for the China-U.S. relationship,” Xi said.
The summit represents the first talks between Biden and Xi since U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which prompted China to hold large-scale military exercises around the island. The focus of the summit was to restore the channels of dialogue that were cut with the Pelosi visit.
But to do this, each side first had to make clear where it stood on the sensitive issue.
A White House readout issued after the meeting said Biden raised objections to China’s coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region as well as jeopardize global prosperity.
But the U.S. president also “laid out in detail” that America’s “one China policy” — which acknowledges the Chinese view that there is but one China — has not changed.
He also opposed any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and said “the world has an interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Meanwhile, Xi said that “the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Later Monday night, when asked by reporters if he thought China had plans to take Taiwan by force, Biden said: “I do not think there’s any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan.”
Regarding North Korea, the readout said Biden raised concerns about its provocative behavior and said all members of the international community have an interest in encouraging Pyongyang to act responsibly — a nudge at Beijing to rein in its neighbor.
Later at the press conference, Biden admitted that he was not sure about China’s leverage on North Korea. “It’s difficult to say that I am certain that China could control North Korea,” he said.
“I’m confident China’s not looking for North Korea to engage in further escalatory means,” Biden said.
Many people were watching if Xi would repeat his opposition to “the threat or use of nuclear weapons,” a phrase he used with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier this month. The White House readout said Biden and Xi “reiterated their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.”
The leaders of the two superpowers met at Xi’s hotel. This is standard procedure for an inaugural summit between two heads of state. The Chinese leader, who has been in office for 10 years, gets to play the role of host to the newer leader.
What was not standard procedure was that Biden stood on the left side during the handshake, the position usually reserved for the host. Xi took the right side, or the guest position, extending his arm across his body for the handshake. This was likely a reciprocal gesture to show appreciation for Biden driving to Xi’s hotel.
A handshake between Biden and Xi revives a relationship that began in 2011, when both were vice presidents. Biden has repeatedly said he has a history with the Chinese leader and is uniquely positioned to negotiate with him. With the bilateral relationship at a historic low, his claims will be put to the test.
The two touched on their longstanding relationship in their opening remarks. Biden said he looked forward to continuing the “open and honest dialogue that we’ve always had.”
Xi said, “In our meeting today, I’m ready to have a candid — as we always did — have a candid and in-depth exchange of views with you on issues of strategic importance in China-U.S. relations and on major global and regional issues.”
The two leaders walked into the meeting room around 5:40 p.m. By the time they finished, the clock showed 8:48 p.m.
Biden told reporters that one aim of the marathon meeting was to reduce misunderstandings.
“I want to be clear and be clear with all leaders but particularly with Xi Jinping, that I mean what I say and I say what I mean. So there’s no misunderstanding,” he said. Biden said his biggest concern is a “misunderstanding about intentions or actions on each of our parts.”
Biden said that Xi was “as straightforward as he has been with me in the past.”
“I think that we understand one another, which is the most important thing that can be done,” he emphasized.
The summit is not expected to produce a joint statement or a detailed fact sheet of promises. Instead, the aim was to build a floor for the relationship and to make sure that competition does not spiral out of control into a conflict.