Presidents Biden and Xi agree to ‘pick up the phone’ for urgent concerns

16 November 2023, 03:44

APEC Biden XI
APEC Biden XI. Picture: PA

Deep differences remain between US and China on economic competition and global security threats.

US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping emerged from their first face-to-face meeting in a year vowing to stabilise their fraught relationship.

They showcased modest agreements to combat illegal fentanyl and re-establish military communications, but there were still deep differences on economic competition and global security threats.

Mr Biden said the most assuring takeaway from Wednesday’s meeting was that if either man had a concern, “we should pick up the phone and call one another and we’ll take the call. That’s important progress.”

The two leaders spent four hours together at a northern California estate – in meetings, a working lunch and a garden stroll – intent on showing the world that while they are global economic competitors, they are not locked in a winner-take-all faceoff.

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

APEC Biden XI
President Joe Biden listens during a meeting Mr Xi (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

The US president told Mr Xi: “I think it’s paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader to leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunications. We have to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”

Their meeting, on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) conference, has far-reaching implications for a world grappling with economic cross currents, conflicts in the Middle East and Europe, tensions in Taiwan and more.

They reached expected agreements to curb illicit fentanyl production and to reopen military ties, Mr Biden said.

Many of the chemicals used to make synthetic fentanyl come from China to cartels that traffic the powerful narcotic into the US, which is facing an overdose crisis.

Mr Biden said military leaders will resume talks, an increasingly important move particularly as unsafe or unprofessional incidents between the two nations’ ships and aircraft have spiked.

“I know the man I know his modus operandi,” said Mr Biden. “We have disagreements but he’s been straight.”

But he still said Mr Xi was a dictator… “in a sense.”

APEC Biden XI
China’s President President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting with Mr Biden (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

The two leaders had a significant back and forth over Taiwan with Mr Biden chiding China over its massive military build-up around Taiwan and Mr Xi saying he had no plans to invade the island, according to a US official.

Mr Biden, the official said, declared the US was committed to continuing to help Taiwan defend itself and maintain deterrence against a potential Chinese attack, calling on China to avoid meddling in the island’s elections next year.

The official described the Taiwan portion of the talks as “clear-headed” and “not heated”.

Mr Biden also called on Mr Xi to use his influence with Iran to make clear that Tehran, and its proxies, should not take steps that would lead to an expansion of the Israel-Hamas war.

Foreign minister Wang Yi has assured the US the Chinese have communicated concerns to Iran, but the official said the US has not been able to ascertain how seriously the Iranians are taking concerns raised by Beijing.

According to a statement released by China Central Television, the state broadcaster, Mr Xi was most focused on Taiwan and the US sanctions and restrictions against Chinese products and businesses.

Mr Xi urged the US to support China’s peaceful unification with the self-governed island, calling Taiwan “the most important and most sensitive issue” in the bilateral relations.

He also raised Beijing’s concerns over export controls, investment screenings and sanctions imposed by the US, which he said “have severely harmed China’s legitimate interests”.

By Press Association

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