President Biden will meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an economic conference in San Francisco next week, one year after their last face-to-face meeting in Bali.
The two leaders are expected to meet on Wednesday as they both travel to San Francisco for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, which is being held in San Francisco, senior administration officials told reporters during a call on Thursday. Biden and Xi have not had any direct communication since their last in-person summit last year.
The highly anticipated meeting comes as the two sides try to stabilize a relationship rocked by a series of crises, including China’s aggressive response to former speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year and the U.S. military’s shoot-down of a Chinese spy balloon that crossed the United States in February.
It also comes as conflicts in Europe and the Middle East threaten to divert Washington’s attention from what the Biden administration has often signaled is its most consequential geopolitical challenge: managing competition with China.
The meeting comes just weeks after the White House had to shift significant attention to the explosive crisis in the Middle East that began after Palestinian gunmen from the militant group Hamas launched a bloody attack in Israel that left some 1,400 people dead and resulted in more than 200 hostages being held in neighboring Gaza. Israel launched a retaliatory military campaign that has left more than 10,000 Palestinians dead and that has tested U.S. relationships abroad and caused deep anxiety among U.S. officials that the conflict will broaden into a regional war.
At the same time, Biden is working to persuade increasingly skeptical Republicans in Congress to keep sending aid to Ukraine as it battles to oust a Russian invasion from its territory.
White House officials say despite the demands of dealing with Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict, they have retained their strong focus on Asia. They noted that a bevy of top administration officials, from the secretaries of State and Defense to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the ambassador to the United Nations, are all in the Indo-Pacific region this week. Biden will meet with the Indonesian president on Monday before flying to San Francisco.
“We know efforts to shape or reform China over several decades have failed,’ said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under the ground rules of the press call. “But we expect China to be around and to be a major player on the world stage for the rest of our lifetimes….We also believe that intense competition requires and demands intense diplomacy to manage tensions and to prevent competition from verging into conflict or confrontation.”
Some experts said that the violence in Gaza and Ukraine underlines that the United States and China have a shared interest in global stability.
“The conflagrations in the Middle East and in Europe serve as a reminder to political systems and publics on both sides that despite fierce U.S.-China rivalry across domains, neither the United States nor China benefits from regional chaos, and they share a strong interest in a stable global economy,” said Patricia Kim, an East Asia expert at the Brookings Institution.
After the Bali summit last year, hopes were raised that the two countries could reset what had become strained relations. But ties grew frosty again earlier this year after the spy balloon was discovered, leading Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip to Beijing at the last minute and China to blast the United States’ shootdown of the airship, which Beijing had insisted was a weather balloon gone astray.
Since then, a series of meetings between top U.S. and Chinese officials have paved the way for next week’s encounter. Blinken traveled to Beijing in June and met with Xi. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan recently met with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, in Washington, while Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Special Climate Envoy John Kerry, CIA Director William Burns and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimando have all made trips to China in the last six months. The two sides have also launched consultations on arms control, maritime concerns and debt issues.
The meeting comes at a crucial moment for China, which has been fighting economic headwinds fueled by a property market bust and local government debt crisis that has slowed growth.
Biden and Xi are expected to focus on restoring crisis communication channels, especially between senior military and defense officials, and to work on areas of shared concern, such as climate change and macroeconomic stability, the senior officials said. They are also expected to address areas of disagreement, including the Ukraine War,human rights, disputes in the South China Sea and potential Chinese electioninterference in Taiwan, the officials said.
Notably, officials said Biden will press Xi to help on diplomatic efforts with Iran, in an effort to prevent the Israel-Gaza war from escalating. Biden has repeatedly warned Iran not to encourage its proxies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, to enter the conflict. Iranian-backed proxies have already launched provocative attacks in the region, including on U.S. troops.
“I believe that the president will underscore our desire for China to make clear, in its burgeoning relationship with Iran, that it is essential that Iran not seek to escalate or spread violence in the Middle East and to warn quite clearly that if Iran undertakes provocative actions, the United States is prepared to respond and respond promptly,” the senior official said.
U.S. officials have expressed optimism the meeting will yield a resumption of high-level military communications and an agreement to address the fentanyl crisis.
Biden and Xi have a relationship that dates back to when they were both vice presidents about a dozen years ago. The meeting in the San Francisco bay area will mark their seventh interaction since Biden’s inauguration in January 2021 but only their second in-person meeting.
Xi’s trip to California marks his first trip to the United States in about six years, when he visited former president Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
The Biden administration has described China as the United States’ most serious long term strategic challenge and said it poses the most serious threat to the international order.
U.S. officials have prioritized bolstering relationships in the Indo-Pacific. They have worked to strengthen ties between Japan and South Korea, and Biden hosted South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol earlier this year.
Biden has also expended significant energy and political capital on the U.S. relationship with India and has carefully avoided criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist party has waged deadly violence against Muslims and who has eroded democracy in India.
Biden hosted Modi for a state visit this past summer and also visited Vietnam as part of a broader administration effort to build a bulwark against China.