President Biden on Monday expressed confidence that a “new Cold War” with China can be avoided and that Beijing is not planning an “imminent” invasion of US ally Taiwan.
The president’s assessment to reporters followed his first personal talks with his Chinese counterpart since taking office, and came after the leaders vowed to “manage” their fierce global competition. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping portrayed Monday’s meeting as an attempt to revive lines of communication and understand each other’s intentions, goals and red lines.
The two leaders, as they exchanged greetings and shook hands for the cameras, appeared relaxed and friendly despite the nadir in relations between the two largest economies in the world. “We’ve been frank and clear with each other across the board,” Biden said after three hours of closed-door talks.
The US President added that he believes that competition with China will not turn into a military conflict. He said he “fully believed” that a new Cold War was not on the horizon and that there was “no imminent attempt” by China to invade Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Xi was emphatic in his warnings to Biden that the United States should refrain from supporting Taiwan independence. This understanding “is the cornerstone of the political foundation of China-US relations,” the ministry said, adding that Taiwan was “the first red line that should not be crossed.”
Despite conciliatory public comments by the two presidents, the Taiwan issue underscores just how far Washington and Beijing remain in a potential diplomatic and economic confrontation.
China has advanced increasingly aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea and escalated threats to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province. Tensions over Taiwan have festered after high-profile visits to Taipei by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and other US lawmakers, as well as Biden’s public overtures to “militarily” defend the island from Chinese attack. Until now, American politics has been one of willful ambiguity. It seeks to honor the ancient “One China” doctrine – which recognizes the communist government in mainland China while maintaining informal relations with Taiwan – and remains silent about what it would do if China invaded the island.
Biden, at a press conference on Monday, insisted that the One China policy had not changed, despite his contradictory statements.
The meeting in an Indonesian resort town came as the two countries also grapple with what Washington sees as China’s crackdown on dissidents and minorities at home and its aggressive push for power and influence abroad. Beijing is angry that Biden continues to impose Trump-era trade restrictions and punitive sanctions that are hurting its economy.
It was Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Xi since becoming president, though the two leaders have courted each other for a decade. Xi recently engineered an unprecedented third term for himself as leader of the Chinese Communist Party, virtually securing his status as president for life.
“We share the responsibility, in my view, to show that China and the United States can manage our differences, to prevent competition from becoming anything at all semi-conflict and to find ways to work together on pressing global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” Biden said. Of the Chinese and American flags.
Shi seemed to echo the sentiment. “The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle the relationship,” Xi said.
Alongside their delegations, Biden and Xi took their positions across from each other at two long tables. The Chinese each wore a white face mask emblazoned with a small red Chinese flag. Americans wore black, white and other masks. Biden and Xi did not wear masks. Protocols around COVID protection were an issue, as Xi was meticulous about avoiding international travel and imposing A “Zero COVID” policy that sought to stamp out the outbreak with strict lockdowns of entire cities.
In his remarks on Monday, Biden acknowledged “it’s not all kumbayah,” and some hawks in China said his optimism was misplaced.
“As we speak with #China #Beijing, unacceptable and dangerous behavior continues and we are not charging costs,” Gordon Chang, a conservative lawyer and expert on China, said on Twitter.
But Biden and Xi have stocked up on personal diplomacy to defuse some conflicts. Biden said there is a “simple alternative” to face-to-face discussions. “I am committed to keeping the lines of communication open between you and me personally, but also with our governments across the board,” Biden said.
“The world expects, I believe, that China and the United States will play major roles in addressing global challenges from climate change to food insecurity, and that we will be able to work together,” Biden said. “The United States is willing to do exactly that, and work with you, if that’s what you want.”
He said he would send Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinkin to China soon to continue the dialogue.
Meeting Xi is the highlight of Biden’s swing across Asia to successive summits that are part of an effort to reaffirm his administration’s desired focus on the region.
Biden spent the weekend preparing to sit down with Xi by consulting regional allies on the Assn. Southeast Asia and East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He held separate meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Sok Yol before the three met to discuss their approach to China and coordinate a response to North Korea’s escalation in ballistic missile launches.
He also met Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is scheduled to meet Xi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on Tuesday.
The president left the summits encouraged by the feedback he received from the many foreign leaders who complimented him on his party’s performance in the midterm elections, according to White House officials. Some noted that the smooth running of the election and “public acceptance” of the results was a testament to democracy – a major concern given that supporters of former President Trump questioned the 2020 election and stormed the US Capitol in January 2021.
Biden was “proud,” letting him and his delegation approach the meeting with Xi “with the wind at our backs,” a senior administration official told reporters before the meeting.
Staff writer Tracy Wilkinson writes in Washington.