Biden set to meet Xi at the G20 amid rising superpower tensions

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Online News US President Joe Biden meets with China's President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, November 15, 2021.

President Biden meets with China’s President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the White House in Washington, DC, Nov. 15, 2021. Photo: Mandel Ngan/ AFP via Getty Images

BALI, Indonesia — President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will meet today on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia, where they will discuss how to manage rising competition between the two superpowers.

Why it matters: It will be the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office. U.S.-China relations have fallen to their lowest point in decades amid tensions over tech competition, cybersecurity, China’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan, and China’s military build-up.

Details: Both sides aim to prevent further deterioration in the bilateral relationship, but beyond that have kept expectations low. A White House official told reporters last week that no joint announcements were expected after the meeting.

  • “We just got to figure out where the red lines are and what are the most important things to each of us going into the next two years,” Biden told reporters on Sunday.
  • The meeting will provide an opportunity to establish “the right way forward for bilateral relations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press conference on Friday. But “we will firmly defend our sovereignty, security and development interests.”

Of note: Biden and Xi are meeting just as both have recently passed major domestic hurdles that will shore up their standing.

  • The Democratic Party unexpectedly maintained control over the Senate after the midterm elections last week, and Xi secured a highly unusual third term as the ruling Chinese Communist Party leader at the 20th Party Congress last month.

Background: Washington and Beijing have been laying the groundwork for the meeting for several months with a series of high-level meetings and calls between U.S. and Chinese officials, including a two-hour video call between Biden and Xi in July.

  • But the Chinese government cut off several key communication channels with the U.S. after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, the first time a House speaker had visited the island in 25 years.

Between the lines: While this meeting is unlikely to produce much in the way of deliverables, it will nevertheless be welcomed by Southeast Asian nations fearful about a superpower showdown in their backyard,” said Craig Singleton, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC.

  • The Biden administration can hope for guardrails, Drew Thompson, visiting fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, told Axios.
  • “But if China decides to pursue its interests using military force, using economic coercion, then we’re left with, once again, looking for the floor to a relationship that we’re not entirely certain has finished devolving,” Thompson said.

The big picture: Divisions over geopolitical tensions and global crises are casting a shadow over a summit that is ostensibly intended to focus on the economy and sustainable development.

  • For Western nations, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has implications energy, trade and food security, which are topics at the G20.
  • But China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and other countries have signaled in recent meetings that they would rather stick to business and economy.

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