Biden and Xi, meeting in Silicon Valley, pledge to work to avoid conflict between the US and China

(Doug Mills/Associated Press)

Biden and Xi, meeting in Silicon Valley, pledge to work to avoid conflict between the US and China

Courtney Subramanian
Tracy Wilkinson
Laurier Rosenhall

November 15, 2023

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping broke a years-long silence and met in Silicon Valley

near San Francisco

Wednesday, pledging to work to prevent tensions between the two superpowers from leading to war.

“For two major countries like China and the United States, turning their backs on each other is not an option,” Xi said at the start of their talks on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. “It is unrealistic for one party to reform the other, and conflict and confrontation have unbearable consequences for both sides.”

Biden told Xi that it was “of utmost importance” that the two leaders clearly understand each other and “ensure that competition does not devolve into conflict.”

The highly anticipated meeting marked the first time Biden and Xi have spoken since

meeting a year ago

November 2022 at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, where they vowed to ‘manage’ their relationship amid

a growing list of clashes and disagreements

about economic competition,

territorial disputes with


territorial disputes with his

neighboring countries, technology and human rights issues.

But in the year since, relations have deteriorated further over the self-governing island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, and after the downing of a Chinese spy balloon hovering over the US mainland.

The two leaders are expected to restore military-to-military communications, which Beijing suspended following former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022. They also plan to

as well as steps to

Crackdown on exports of the chemicals used to make the deadly opioid fentanyl, though China h

for failing to stem the flow of synthetic drugs into the US, despite similar commitments being made under previous administrations. And not fulfilled?

Biden and Xi also plan to discuss the use of artificial intelligence in drone and warhead technologies.

So Biden is up to it

the meeting

to seek China’s help in the two global conflicts that have overshadowed its foreign policy agenda: Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas. The president was expected to pressure Xi to use China’s influence over Iran to push Tehran and its allies


the war expands into a regional conflict.

The conversations took place at Filoli Estate, a historic country house in the

Coast of Silicon Valley

community of Woodside, ahead of a potentially rocky geopolitical year that will see Taiwan and the U.S. hold presidential elections, two events that could inject uncertainty into the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

“The geopolitical calendar for the next 12 to 18 months may be the driving reason why the US in particular is placing a lot of value on this meeting,” said Jude Blanchette, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic International Studies. . “Not for specific outcomes, but more so that they can reach an agreement at a direct leader-to-leader level, where Biden and Xi look each other in the eye and say, ‘We’re both going to struggle to find a quick solution ‘. changing geopolitical environment if we cannot find an ounce of stability within what is clearly a rivalry.”

Although the meeting was aimed at thawing diplomatic ties, the pair were expected to discuss long-standing differences, including Taiwan’s sovereignty, the build-up of China’s nuclear arsenal and provocations in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, and U.S. export controls on semiconductors and other advanced technologies. Biden was also expected to improve China’s human rights record, including its treatment of Muslim Uyghurs and its crackdown on Hong Kong.

Although the White House tried to temper expectations around the Xi-Biden meeting, the fact that it took place at all was an important step toward defusing tensions, analysts said.

Before the meeting, Andrew Scobell, a China expert at the US Institute of Peace, a Washington think tank, said he wasn’t expecting much. But not much is better than nothing at all.

I think this is probably the most important thing that could come out of it [the meeting] is an improvement in the tone of the relationship, Scobell said.

China’s top-down system means that if Xi signals warmer relations with the US, the relationship is likely to improve immediately.

“That’s the only way you’re going to see that happen. It really has to come from the top,” he added.

With economic and political unrest at home, Xi came to the APEC summit with interest

shining and

which shows that he can hold his own against the American president, analysts say.

The Chinese economy

does not grow at the rate it used to and has not recovered sufficiently afterwards

The COVID shutdowns have brought the country to its knees. And in recent months, Xi has fired several top officials, including the foreign and defense ministers, an unusual shake-up in the Communist Party-controlled government.

“It is important for Xi to be able to demonstrate to his domestic voters, people in the Politburo, that he has the United States that relations are not getting out of hand,” said Ian Johnson, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. I think this is the opportunity to get things back on track.”

On Tuesday, Biden told a group of donors in San Francisco that China has “real problems,” an apparent reference to the country’s troubled economy.

“President Xi is yet another example of how we are restoring American leadership in the world. It is starting to take hold,” he said. “They have real problems.”

Restoring military-to-military communications is a relatively easy carrot that China could offer to show that it is trying to improve bilateral ties, according to Scobell. It’s a way China can give the impression of making a concession without actually giving up anything substantial, he said.

Elsewhere, the two leaders sought cooperation

less controversial

issues like climate change and restoring travel between the two countries, two areas that California will likely benefit from. Ahead of the meeting, the US and China agreed to resume a working group on climate cooperation, which Beijing halted in retaliation for Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

“California is going to play an outsized role in shaping the climate debate as it is truly at the forefront of the United States, both in terms of regulation, climate change adaptation and the role of technology,” Blanchette said.

The Biden administration has spent the past year

trying to make a significant effort to try


improve recovery


relationship channels

between the two countries. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi three times as Biden deployed Secretary of State Antony


Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet


Yellen, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and US Climate Representative John


Kerry to Beijing.

California Governor Gavin Newsom also traveled to Beijing and met with Xi ahead of Wednesday’s talks. During his visit, Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, said Xi began their meeting by recalling his 1985 visit to the city, particularly remembering the Golden Gate Bridge.



The bridge was a recurring symbol throughout the trip, with references in Newsom’s speeches and even on a sign illustrating that the bridge merges into the Great Wall, China’s own historical landmark.

Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, said Xi’s attempt to invoke the bridge during his meeting with Newsom was a classic attempt to flatter a visiting foreigner.

But it means something, he said. It means that Xi Jinping wants to consolidate relations in this case.

Schell said Xi may be motivated to improve relations with the US because of China’s weak economy.

I think even Xi Jinping recognizes that his docile diplomacy, his attack on entrepreneurs, his attacks on the United States, his constant repetition that the United States is a hostile foreign power, that it has gone a bit far, is starting to hurt China , Schell said. So there is a course correction.

However, it is not yet clear whether the rapprochement is substantive or symbolic. Reaching agreement on climate action, economic policy or control of the South China Sea is much more difficult than conjuring the cooperative image of the bridge.

That’s the kind of symbol and sign China is likely to give because it costs nothing, Schell said. It is merciful. It genuflects to Biden and America without actually giving anything away.”

Subramanian and Wilkinson reported from Washington and Rosenhall from Beijing and Sacramento.


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