What world can expect from Joe Biden and Xi Jinping's virtual meet on Monday

The meet presents the biggest opportunity yet to reset the bilateral relationship, which has been witnessing escalating tensions

FP Staff November 11, 2021 11:36:00 IST
What world can expect from Joe Biden and Xi Jinping's virtual meet on Monday

File photo of Chinese president Xi Jinping, with Vice President Joe Biden. AP

The much-anticipated virtual summit between President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping is most likely to take place on 15 November, stated a POLITICO report citing a US official.

Ahead of the meet, President Xi Jinping said that China is ready to manage differences with the United States.

In a letter addressed to the National Committee on US-China Relations, a New York-based non-profit, Xi wrote: "Right now, China-US relations are at a critical historical juncture. Both countries will gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only right choice."

Meet after phone calls

Last month, US officials had revealed that they had reached an agreement in principle with China to hold a virtual meeting between Biden and Xi before the end of the year, as part of an effort to ensure stability in one of the world's most consequential and fraught relationships.

This meet comes after Biden and Xi spoke to each other in September on the phone for over 90 minutes.

Describing that phone call, the White House had said: "The two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge."

"They agreed to engage on both sets of issues openly and straightforwardly. This discussion, as President Biden made clear, was part of the United States' ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People's Republic of China," the statement added.

The two leaders also spoke for two hours in February — their first phone call since Biden took office.

"It was a good conversation, I know him well, we've spent a lot of time together over the years I was vice president. But, you know, if we don't get moving, they're going to eat our lunch," Biden said at the time.

Why a virtual meet?

The meet between the two will be held in a virtual format as Xi hasn't left China in 21 months ever since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Wuhan.

He skipped the G20 Summit held in Rome in late October as well as the COP26 climate meet in Scotland.

In fact, Xi’s decision to miss the COP26 meet was criticised, with Biden himself saying it was a ‘big mistake’. The US president was quoted by the BBC as saying, “The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader — not showing up, come on."

That comment wasn't appreciated by Beijing, with China's foreign ministry spokesman retorting, "Actions speak louder than words."

“What we need in order to deal with climate change is concrete action rather than empty words,” he added as per a report in the Al Jazeera. “China’s actions in response to climate change are real.”

China-US ties

The Biden-Xi meeting presents a chance for the two superpowers to set the tone for their relationship going forward.

The meeting is significant as both sides have been sparring — from the origins of the coronavirus to China's expanding nuclear arsenal and even Beijing's aggression towards Taiwan.

However, experts opine that both sides will keep their expectations low, a sentiment echoed by White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Talking about the meet, she had said, "This is part of our ongoing efforts to responsibly manage the competition between our countries," stressing that it was "not about seeking specific deliverables".

Experts also noted that the two leaders are likely to work on an agreement to relax curbs on visas for journalists and also take a decision on re-opening the consulates in Chengdu and Houston, which have been shut since 2020.

Interestingly, the meet also comes after the United States held its QUAD meeting in Washington during which leaders of the collective — India, Japan, Australia and US — took subtle jibes at Beijing, saying the Indo-Pacific region should be "free from coercion and disputes".

Additionally, the US also formed a new alliance with the United Kingdom and Australia, dubbed AUKUS, which had been severely criticised by China. Beijing, at the time had, slammed the grouping as a reflection of “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical perception”.

One thing is sure: the overwhelming priority at the virtual meet will be to avoid further hostility between the two countries and also assert themselves in a positive manner without muscular posturing and high rhetoric.

With inputs from agencies

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