US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have promised to cooperate on global challenges and agreed on the need to improve strained relations as they sat down for their first in-person meeting as national leaders.
The meeting on Monday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, involved “candid” discussions on a range of issues, including Taiwan, trade, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to separate statements from their offices.
Following the three-hour long talks, Biden told reporters he believed “there need not be a new Cold War”, while their offices said the two leaders stressed the importance of cooperation between Beijing and Washington to tackle global issues.
“Biden underscored that the United States and China must work together to address transnational challenges — such as climate change, global macroeconomic stability including debt relief, health security, and global food security — because that is what the international community expects,” the White House said.
The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, also cited Xi as saying that the “two sides should work with all countries to bring more hope to world peace, greater confidence in global stability, and stronger impetus to common development”.
The meeting follows a spike in tensions between the two countries after top US legislator Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier this year and Biden promised to defend the self-ruled island — which Beijing claims as its own — if China invades it.
“On Taiwan, [Biden] laid out in detail that our one China policy has not changed, the United States opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and the world has an interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” the White House said.
Under the “One China policy”, the US recognises the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing over the Republic of China (ROC) in Taipei as the sole and legal government of China. But Washington takes no position on Taiwan’s sovereignty, contending that its future should be determined by peaceful means.
This policy is different to the PRC’s “One China principle”, under which Beijing insists that Taiwan is an inalienable part of its territory.
For his part, Xi stressed that the “Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-US relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations”. Resolving this question is an internal Chinese matter and the US must not use Taiwan as a tool to seek advantages in competition with China, he said, according to a readout of the meeting by the Chinese foreign ministry.
After the meeting ended, Biden told reporters that Washington does not believe there is an immediate threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
“I absolutely believe there need not be a new Cold War,” Biden said. “I’ve met many times with Xi Jinping. And we were candid and clear with one another across the board. And I do not think there’s any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan.”
‘No zero-sum game’
Beyond Taiwan, ties between Beijing and Washington have soured over numerous other points of tension in recent years, including trade issues, human rights, claims to the South China Sea and an ongoing US effort to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.
The White House said Biden raised concerns with Xi over China’s “practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and human rights more broadly”. The US has accused China of carrying out genocide against its Muslim Uighur minority in the western region of Xinjiang — a charge that Beijing vehemently denies.
He also raised concerns about “China’s non-market practices” and said it was a priority for Washington to resolve the cases of American citizens detained by Beijing.
“We’re going to compete vigorously, but I’m not looking for conflict,” Biden told reporters on Monday. “I’m looking to manage this competition responsibly. And I want to make sure that every country abides by the international rules of the road.”
For his part, Xi said he “looks forward to working with Biden to bring China-US relations back to the track of healthy and stable growth to the benefit of our two countries and the world as a whole”.
He said that for the two countries to get along, they must recognise and respect each other’s differences, including that “just as the United States has American-style democracy, China has Chinese-style democracy”. Neither side should try to remould the other in one’s image or seek to change or even subvert the other’s system, he said.
Xi went on to underscore that “competition should be about learning from each other to become one’s better self and make progress together, not about taking others down in a zero-sum game”.
“The Chinese nation has the proud tradition of standing up for itself. Suppression and containment will only strengthen the will and boost the morale of the Chinese people,” he was quoted as saying.
“Starting a trade war or a technology war, building walls and barriers, and pushing for decoupling and severing supply chains run counter to the principles of market economy and undermine international trade rules. Such attempts serve no one’s interests. We oppose politicising and weaponising economic and trade ties as well as exchanges in science and technology,” he added.
The discussions between Biden and Xi also touched on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The White House said the two leaders “reiterated their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won”. They also “underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine”.
The Chinese readout said Xi told Biden that China was “highly concerned about the current situation in Ukraine”.
“China has all along stood on the side of peace and will continue to encourage peace talks. We support and look forward to a resumption of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, we hope that the United States, NATO and the EU will conduct comprehensive dialogues with Russia,” it said.
Both sides said the two leaders tasked their teams to maintain regular contact to follow up on their discussions and resolve more issues. As part of this effort, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will soon travel to Beijing, the White House said.
Andy Mok, senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank, described Biden’s remarks as “moderate in tone and conciliatory”.
He added, however, that the concern is that US rhetoric may not match policy, specifically around Taiwan — an issue that Xi is “adamant” about.
“But certainly it’s great that both sides are talking and there is going to be more follow-up,” Mok told Al Jazeera.