Biden’s goal in meeting with Xi: Avoid spiraling conflict

When President Biden meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday at a lush estate on the edge of Silicon Valley, his primary goal will be simple: find a way to keep the increasingly fierce competition with China from tipping over into conflict.

For two leaders who agreed on very little as their nations entered their worst relationship in four decades, there were signs they would try to push toward a semblance of agreement. A senior administration official said they are expected to reach a draft agreement that would commit Beijing to regulate components of fentanyl, the drug that has sparked the devastating opioid epidemic in the United States. But China has previously made similar commitments.

He is likely to announce a new forum to discuss how to keep AI programs away from nuclear command and control — at the same time the United States is denying China the advanced chips it needs to develop and train AI programs. And they are likely to discuss restoring military-to-military communications, which China cut after Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, when she was Speaker of the House of Representatives. But there have been periods of military contact since the George W. Bush administration.

The interactions between the two leaders when they meet at the lush Filoli Estate, a historic house and garden northwest of Stanford’s campus, are carefully choreographed. Senior Chinese officials discussed them in meetings with Biden’s most trusted aides, including Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state.

But many problematic issues remain to complicate the discussions, including some aides to Mr. Biden have said he intends to raise, such as the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and upcoming elections in Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its own.

In briefing after briefing, administration officials tried to play down expectations of the kind of concrete commitments that once surrounded such summits, saying the very fact that the leaders of the world’s two largest economies, and most powerful militaries, were communicating again was in itself a sign of progress.

Graham Allison, Harvard professor and author of a book that questions whether the two countries are destined for war, wrote The National Interest that the meeting would encompass what he called “two contradictory but nevertheless unavoidable facts.”

“First, the US and China will be the fiercest rivals history has ever seen,” he wrote. “Secondly, the very survival of any nation requires some degree of cooperation from the other.”

Mr Biden arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon as the city closed for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, known as APEC, a group of 21 countries that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. (He sent Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to meet with Mr. Xi when he landed in San Francisco on Tuesday night.)

Mr. Biden’s only public event on Tuesday was a fundraiser with Vice President Kamala Harris, during which he suggested an economic crackdown on China, along with the Biden administration’s work to build a network of partners in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s ambitions, led Mr. Xi to the negotiating table.

“President Xi is another example of how the re-establishment of American leadership in the world is gaining momentum,” Mr. Biden told the crowd. “They’ve got real problems, people.”

It was not the first time that Mr. Biden had mentioned China’s economic slowdown, and it was only five months ago that he called him a “dictator,” a comment that his advisers quickly tried to back up.

There will be no joint statement on Wednesday to try to smooth over such a difficult conversation. US officials say each government will give its own account of the discussions.

Categories USA

Leave a Comment