By Aamer Madhani and Colleen Long
President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet Wednesday in California for talks on trade, Taiwan and managing fraught U.S.-Chinese relations in the first engagement between the leaders of the world's two biggest economies in a year.
The White House has said for weeks that it anticipated Biden and Xi would meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, but negotiations went down to the eve of the gathering, which kicks off Saturday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement the leaders would discuss the “continued importance of maintaining open lines of communication” and how the they “can continue to responsibly manage competition and work together where our interests align, particularly on transnational challenges that affect the international community.”
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday that Xi would attend APEC from Tuesday to Nov. 17 at Biden’s invitation and would take part in the U.S.-China summit.
Two senior Biden administration officials, who earlier briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House, said that the leaders would meet in the San Francisco Bay area but declined to offer further details because of security concerns. Thousands of protesters are expected to descend on San Francisco during the summit.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng met on Thursday in the San Francisco, the latest in a string of senior level engagements between the nations in recent months aimed at easing tensions. Yellen and He are set to continue talks on Friday.
The Biden-Xi meeting is not expected to lead to many, if any, major announcements, and differences between the two powers certainly won't be resolved. Instead, one official said, Biden is looking toward “managing the competition, preventing the downside risk of conflict and ensuring channels of communication are open.” The officials said they believed it would be Xi's first visit to San Francisco since he was a young Communist Party leader.
The agenda includes no shortage of difficult issues.
Differences in the already complicated U.S.-Chinese relationship have only sharpened in the last year, with Beijing bristling over new U.S. export controls on advanced technology; Biden ordering the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon after it traversed the continental United States; and Chinese anger over a stopover in the U.S. by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen earlier this year, among other issues. China claims the island as its territory.
Biden will also likely press Xi on using China's influence on North Korea, during heightened anxiety over an increased pace of ballistic missile tests by North Korea as well as Pyongyang providing munitions to Russia for its war in Ukraine.
The Democratic president is also expected to let Xi know that he would like China to use its burgeoning sway over Iran to make clear that Tehran or its proxies should not take action that could lead to expansion of the Israel-Hamas war. His administration believes the Chinese, a big buyer of Iranian oil, have considerable leverage with Iran, which is a major backer of Hamas.
Biden and Xi last met nearly a year ago on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. In the nearly three-hour meeting, Biden objected directly to China’s ”coercive and increasingly aggressive actions” toward Taiwan and discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other issues. Xi stressed 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.”
The Chinese foreign ministry said this time Biden and Xi would focus on “in-depth communications on the strategic, overall and directional issues of the China-US relations as well as major issues concerning world peace and development."
Next week's meeting comes as the United States braces for a potentially bumpy year for U.S.-Chinese relations, with Taiwan set to hold a presidential election in January and the U.S. holding its own presidential election next November.
Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step U.S. leaders say they don’t support. Under the “One China” policy, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but it has maintained that Taipei is an important partner in the Indo-Pacific. Biden intends to reaffirm the U.S. wants no change in the status quo, one official said.
Disinformation experts testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee have warned that Beijing could aim to target the U.S., sowing discord that might influence election results at the local level, especially in districts with large numbers of Chinese-American voters.
The Biden administration has sought to make clear to the Chinese that any actions or interference in the 2024 election “would raise extremely strong concerns from our side,” according to one official.
The officials also noted that Biden is determined to restore military-to-military communications that Beijing largely withdrew from after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in August 2022.
All the while, the number of unsafe or provocative encounters involving the two nations’ ships and aircraft have spiked.
Last month, the U.S. military released a video of a Chinese fighter jet flying within 10 feet (3 meters) of an American B-52 bomber over the South China Sea, nearly causing an accident. Earlier that month, the Pentagon released footage of some of the more than 180 intercepts of U.S. warplanes by Chinese aircraft that occurred in the last two years, part of a trend U.S. military officials call concerning.
Gen. CQ Brown Jr., the top U.S. military commander, told reporters in Tokyo on Friday that restoration of military-to-military contacts is “hugely important” to “ensure there is no miscalculation” between the sides. He said he conveyed his desire to restart the dialogue in a letter to his Chinese counterpart.
The officials also said Biden would underscore U.S. commitment to the Philippines, following a recent episode in which Chinese ships blocked and collided with two Filipino vessels off a contested shoal in the South China Sea.
The Philippines and other neighbors of China are resisting Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims over virtually the entire sea.
“I want to be very clear,” Biden said in October. "The United States’ defense commitment to the Philippines is iron clad.”
Both sides appeared to be carefully considering security for the meeting, declining to publicize the venue of the much-anticipated talks.
Thousands of people protesting climate destruction, corporate practices, the Israel-Hamas war and other issues are expected to descend on San Francisco during the summit.
San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott said his department expects several protests a day but doesn't know which ones will materialize where and when. He said the city respects people’s right to mobilize peacefully but will not tolerate property destruction, violence or any other crime.
Associated Press writer Janie Har in San Francisco and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed reporting.