Biden hails ‘real progress’ after four hours of talks with China’s Xi

Shashinka Vidusara

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have concluded more than four hours of talks with a commitment to stabilise strained bilateral ties and restore some military-to-military communications.

The two leaders met on Wednesday for the first time in a year at Fioli Estate, a country retreat about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of San Francisco.

After a handshake and smiles, they sat down for talks that lasted more than two hours.  Next was a working lunch with key officials, followed by a stroll around the manicured gardens.

Writing on social media site X, Biden said he valued the conversation he had with Xi.  “I think it’s paramount that we understand each other clearly, leader to leader,” Biden wrote. “There are critical global challenges that demand our joint leadership. And today, we made real progress.”

It was the two leaders’ first face-to-face meeting in a year and it coincided with the annual summit of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) a short drive away in San Francisco.

“Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed,” Xi told Biden.

Officials on both sides of the Pacific set expectations low ahead of the meeting, given longstanding disagreements over issues from Taiwan to the South China Sea, the Israel – Hamas war, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, North Korea and human rights.

In the event, they reached an agreement to reopen military contacts that were cut after then-House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own, in August 2022.

A US official told reporters there was significant back and forth between the two leaders over Taiwan, with Biden chiding China over its massive military build-up around the island, and asking it to respect the territory’s electoral process. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for January, with William Lai, the current vice president and a man Beijing has labelled a “separatist” leading opinion polls.

Xi, meanwhile, stressed the island was part of China.

“The US side should  stop arming Taiwan, and support China’s peaceful reunification,” Xi told Biden, according to China’s Foreign Ministry. “China will realise reunification, and this is unstoppable.”

Cooperation between the US and China, which make up the world’s two largest economies, remains vital for progress on global issues such as climate change. But both sides have expressed mounting frustration with the other, disagreeing over issues such as technology and global politics.

Washington has accused China of offering Russia an economic lifeline as Moscow continues its war in Ukaraine.

The two sides have also differed on the Middle East, where China has called for a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian armed group Hamas. The US, meanwhile, has thrown its support behind Israel and used its position on the United Nations Security Council to veto calls for a ceasefire.

Military contacts

After the meeting ended, a senior US official told the Associated Press news agency that the military communication agreements would mean that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would be able to meet his Chinese counterpart once one has been appointed.

Beijing is currently without a defence minister after Li Shangfu, who was under US sanctions and had rebuffed attempts at contact, was fired without explanation last month. He had disappeared from public view two months earlier.

The door will also open for contacts at more junior levels, including allowing the Hawaii-based commander of US Pacific forces to engage with counterpart theatre commanders, the official added. The agreement is also expected to mean more operational engagements between ship drivers and others in each country.

Xi said after the meeting that the resumption of high-level military dialogues was made on the basis of equity and respect, according to a statement released by China Central Television, the state broadcaster.

The talks also led to an agreement to cooperate on tackling the source of fentanyl, the highly addictive synthetic opioid that has become a leading cause of drug overdoses in the US.

Under the agreement, China will go directly after specific companies that produce the chemicals used to make the drug, a senior US official told reporters.

Biden also called on Xi to use his influence with Iran to make it clear that Tehran and its proxies should avoid provocative action that could spread the Israel-Hamas conflict across the Middle East.

During the exchange, Biden did most of the talking and Xi mostly listened, according to the US official. Foreign Minister Wang Yi has assured the US that the Chinese have communicated concerns to Iran on the matter.

The US president also raised concerns about the status of US citizens that Washington believes are wrongly detained in China and human rights.

Before the meeting, both countries backed a new renewable energy target and said they would work to reduce methane and plastic pollution, a renewl of climate coorporation that was also a casualty of Pelosi’s Taiwan visit.

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