Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping head into their big meeting at a country estate on Wednesday hoping to stabilise US-China relations after a period of tumult, but the US President also is prepared to confront his counterpart on difficult issues such as trade, Beijing’s burgeoning relationship with Iran and human rights concerns.
The two leaders, who will meet on the sidelines of a summit of Asian-Pacific leaders, last spoke a year ago. Since then, already fraught ties between the two economic superpowers have been further strained by the US downing of a Chinese spy balloon that had traversed the continental US and over differences on the self-ruled island of Taiwan, China’s hacking of a Biden official’s emails and other incidents.
The two leaders are in California for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum but will hold their one-on-one talks at Filoli Estate, a country house and museum about 40km south of San Francisco, according to three senior administration officials.
Both men are seeking to show the world that while the US and China are economic competitors, they are not locked in a winner-take-all face-off. Their relationship has been increasingly defined by differences over export controls, Taiwan and the conflicts in West Asia and Europe.
Biden is expected to let Xi know that he would like China to use its sway over Iran to make clear that Tehran or its proxies should not take action that could lead to the expansion of the Israel-Hamas war. The Biden administration also sees the Chinese, a big buyer of Iranian oil, as having considerable leverage with Iran.
Biden on Tuesday billed the meeting as a chance to get Washington and Beijing back “on a normal course corresponding” once again.
But National Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden was “not going to be afraid to confront where confrontation is needed on issues where we don’t see eye to eye”. “We’re also not going to be afraid, nor should we be afraid, as a confident nation, to engage in diplomacy on ways which we can cooperate with China,” Kirby said.