President Joe Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside south of San Francisco on Wednesday, meeting face-to-face for the first time in over a year before going to the APEC Summit.
President Biden and President Xi last met face to face at a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia last November. Since then, tensions have remained high between the two countries, especially following a June incident in which Biden called President Xi a “dictator” and an incident in February when a Chinese spy balloon moved across Canada and the United States before being blown up by an F-22 off the coast of South Carolina. There are also continuing issues, such as concerns of of agreements between Russia, China, and North Korea in the past year, wars in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, and the escalation of military exercises nearby Taiwan. In addition, there have been more benign flare ups, such as the recent decision by China to end the Panda bear diplomacy program with the U.S.
Last month, the White House previously announced that the two leaders would likely be meeting at the Summit, but gave no more details beyond that. Shortly before that announcement, Governor Gavin Newsom had met with President Xi while on a Chinese trip, where the upcoming summit was discussed. With Newsom, a rumored 2024/2028 presidential election rival to both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, meeting Xi over economic and other issues, the White House acted fast to put focus on Biden meeting with Xi instead.
Details were quickly hammered out over the next few weeks, including the date and where the meeting was to take place. All of that culminated in Biden and Jinping meeting at Filoli on Wednesday.
In their opening remarks before the press, both Biden and Xi noted their long relationships, as they have both known each other since they were Vice Presidents of their respective countries.
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” said Biden, reflecting on a meeting 12 years ago where he was tasked by then-President Barack Obama to look into Xi. “While we don’t always agree, which wouldn’t surprise anyone, our meetings have always been candid, straightforward and useful.”
Xi added that “Coming here, I think of your trip to China when I was the vice president of China. We had a meeting. It was 12 years ago. I still remember our interactions very vividly and it always gives me a lot of thoughts.”
However, the meeting soon entered two rounds of talks inside the mansion, only broken up by a lunch and a short private walk between the two leaders. While not all of what was discussed was known as of late Wednesday afternoon, it is known that both the Americans and Chinese went over numerous issues.
One that was highlighted early on was over Xi agreeing to take steps to reduce fentanyl production. Specifically, China would start to go after companies in the country producing precurser chemicals to fentanyl. Also advanced was both China and the US agreeing to resume military communications in order to better address incidents that have occurred in the past year, such as the balloon incident that resulted in the U.S. downing a Chinese spy balloon with military jets.
Talks between Biden, Xi
“We agreed to resume high-level communication between the two militaries on the basis of equality and respect,” said a Chinese official after the meeting. “Our sides will also resume meetings between their defense ministries and maritime military security consultations and start talks between leaders of theatre commands.”
Also discussed was the Israel-Hamas war, China agreeing to pressure Iran more on supplying terrorist groups, an expansion of U.S. and Chinese flights, agreeing to more cultural exchanges, climate change, the Russian-Ukrainian war, and economic issues. For Xi, the last issue was paramount for him and his country because of the huge decline in the Chinese economy in the past several years. It has gotten so bad in recent months that the country stopped releasing unemployment data following the last reported youth unemployment rate reaching 21% in June.
“The world has emerged from the Covid pandemic but is still under its tremendous impacts. The global economy is recovering, but its momentum remains sluggish,” said Xi on Wednesday. “The US-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. The relationship should develop in a way that benefits our two people and fulfills our responsibility for human progress.
“Historically, the U.S.-Chinese relationship has never been smooth sailing. Yet it has kept moving forward amid twists and turns. For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option. It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other, and conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.”
The meeting concluded in the late afternoon, with Biden writing on social media that “I value the conversation I had today with President Xi because I think it’s paramount that we understand each other clearly, leader to leader. There are critical global challenges that demand our joint leadership. And today, we made real progress.
“I’ve just concluded a day of meetings with President Xi, and I believe they were some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had. We built on groundwork laid over the past several months of diplomacy between our countries and made important progress.”
I’ve just concluded a day of meetings with President Xi, and I believe they were some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had.
We built on groundwork laid over the past several months of diplomacy between our countries and made important progress. pic.twitter.com/0RT1q0FZHr
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 16, 2023
Experts noted that while the issues discussed between the two were surface level, the overall mood of the meeting was rarely tense, with the choice of location in particular playing a role in the talks.
“The decision of hosting it in Filoli was honestly a good decision,” said Jacob Callum, a large events planner who helps assist in setting up major conferences and summits, to the Globe. “That mansion is a symbol of power, and not in the sterilized way that China often hosts conferences, nor in the minimalist way that many other venues in San Francisco have. This is a classic estate, but not too large so that the Chinese media couldn’t focus on that. And it was scenic. And most importantly, it wasn’t in San Francisco proper. By having it there, the criticisms of San Francisco wouldn’t be focused on. At least for today.”
Andre Worthington, an economist focused on China, added that “Xi wanted to have economic assurances. He’s been pushing Chinese growth for years, but lately China has been spiraling down. Their real estate market is in disaster right now, with all those words they said about the U.S. housing market in 2008 now biting them back. The U.S. economy isn’t too hot right now, but compared to China, we’re doing very well. And Xi obviously wanted to have assurances of continued strong economic ties. Look at all the things he agreed to do in other areas on Wednesday. Will he do them? Well, he’ll probably find ways around them, but the point stands. He really needs us right now. The meetings really showed that.”
Discussions on issues between the U.S. and China are expected to continue over the next few days minus the leaders as the APEC Summit continues in San Francisco.
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