President Joe Biden is set to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping, as tensions between Beijing and Washington have mounted.
The planned virtual meeting will be the third conversation between the pair since Biden took office at the beginning of the year, and the first since new outlets reported in mid-October that China had in August tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile — causing alarm among US intelligence officials.
They spoke most recently on Sept. 9, when Xi rebuffed Biden’s request for an in-person discussion with the aim of easing tensions between the world powers. The leaders did not speak about the COVID-19 pandemic during the call, according to the White House.
The Monday meeting comes on the heels of the US testing Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system on Guam, due to military officials’ concern about potential China launching missile tests and attacks. Additionally, the talk comes after the US Holocaust Memorial Museum announced Tuesday that it found evidence that there is “a reasonable basis” to believe that previously alleged crimes against humanity against the Uighurs are increasing.
Last week, the White House vowed Biden will be “candid” with Xi about America’s “concerns” with China’s government.
“The two leaders will discuss ways to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC, as well as ways to work together where our interests align,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday in a statement. “Throughout, President Biden will make clear US intentions and priorities and be clear and candid about our concerns with the PRC.”
Psaki declined to say whether Biden will during Monday’s call broach the subject of China’s handling of coronavirus or its unknown origins, while insisting “the president’s certainly not going to hold back” on issues about which he is concerned.
Xi, for his part, has stressed the importance of “cooperation” between China and America.
“Right now, China-US relations are at a critical historical juncture.
“Both countries will gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation,” Xi wrote recently in a letter addressed to the National Committee on US-China Relations. “Cooperation is the only right choice.”
On Saturday, reps from China and the US were among nearly 200 countries to reach an agreement on boosting efforts to combat climate change, in a rare moment of unity between the rivals.
Still, some experts don’t expect the meeting will be particularly fruitful.
“Overall, in both Washington and Beijing, the expectation of convergence is pretty much dead,” Scott Moore, director of China programs and strategic initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Guardian. “Instead, the relationship has become more transactional.”
“For Biden, he is facing political challenges at home with the midterm elections looming [next year]. Therefore, he will likely face political constraints in terms of taking any actions that could be perceived or characterized as making significant concessions to China,” Moore reportedly explained. “For Xi, his biggest vulnerability is on the economic front. That’s why Beijing has been signaling its interest in making progress on trade. Recent comments from Biden administration officials suggest there is interest in engaging on these issues, but again there are likely to be significant political constraints.”
A senior US official told Reuters it’s doubtful Biden would come away with the meeting with identifiable results.
“This is not about seeking specific deliverables or outcomes,” the official reportedly said. “As we compete with the PRC, President Biden expects President Xi and the PRC to play by the rules of road—and he will make that point throughout the meeting.”
It’s likely Biden and potential other presidents will be speaking with Xi, who assumed his post in 2012, for the foreseeable future.
On Thursday, leaders of China’s ruling Communist Party passed a resolution that allows him to stay in office through at least 2027.
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