Seen from the United States. At the G20 in Bali, a Biden-Xi Jinping meeting under high tension

The official announcement was made on Sunday by the White House: Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will meet on Monday, November 14 on the sidelines of the G20, in Bali, to discuss“responsible management” disputes between China and the United States and “trying to work together” in areas where their interests converge, according to the terms of the American presidency. They should also mention “a number of international and regional topics”, reads the press release – without further details.

This first face-to-face between the two men since they are at the head of their respective countries comes a few weeks after President Biden and his Chinese counterpart presented antagonistic visions of the way the United States and the China are vying for military, technological and political preeminence, highlighted The New York Times.

“Their first face-to-face meeting as senior leaders will be a test. It’s about whether they can stop the downward spiral that has taken the two countries’ relations to their lowest point since President Nixon’s first overture to Beijing here is a half a century.”

The First Cold War Summit Version 2.0

The Bali meeting will take place a few months after large-scale military exercises by China following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and the establishment by the United States of a series of export controls designed to hamper China’s ability to produce the latest computer chips needed both for its military and for sectors like artificial intelligence or quantum computing.

“This will be sort of the first Cold War superpower summit version 2.0,” explains Evan S. Medeiros, professor at Georgetown University and former adviser to President Obama for Asia-Pacific affairs. Especially since the tension between the two countries is aggravated by Beijing’s partnership with Moscow, which has not been denounced since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

Xi Jinping and Joe Biden have spoken on the phone five times in the past eighteen months. But this meeting in the flesh will be different, says Jake Sullivan, national security adviser at the White House. For the first time since assuming the presidency, Joe Biden”will sit in the same room as Xi Jinping” :

“There is simply no substitute for this type of leader-to-leader communication to move forward and manage such a defining relationship.”

Limited expectations

Yet, if the stakes are high, “expectations are low”, points out for its part CNN. In a world reeling from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastation wrought by climate change, the two great powers “should more than ever work together to bring about stability instead of stoking tensions along geopolitical fault lines”. But the United States and China are locked in their great power rivalry. The two countries are at odds on just about every issue, from Taiwan to the war in Ukraine, from North Korea to much-needed technology transfers.

“Their only real common ground may be their limited hopes for what might come out of this encounter.”

In fact, the main objective of the meeting is not to reach agreements – moreover, the two leaders have not planned a joint statement at the end of the meeting – but to better understand the priorities of everyone and perhaps clear up some misunderstandings.

On Wednesday, November 9, Joe Biden said at a press conference that he wanted “expose our red lines” to Xi Jinping. “I would like to be a fly on the wall for this conversation because I don’t think the US or China have been very specific about their ‘red lines’ so far. And I also don’t think either side was very clear about the positive benefits the other side would derive from following those red lines.” says Scott Kennedy, China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Curb a death spiral

On his side, the washington post remember that the two men met for a long time ten years ago, when Joe Biden, then vice-president, visited the one who was at the time his counterpart in Beijing.

“The meeting with Xi is perhaps the most important of the six-day trip that Joe Biden is preparing to make. U.S. officials hope that somehow the personal bond the pair have forged can ease the often hostile, sometimes volatile and potentially dangerous clash between two global giants.”

“We are in a very bad dynamic. The question is whether there is a strong enough relationship, enough respect and the ability to listen on both sides”, confirms Daniel Russel, a diplomat who helped organize Joe Biden’s trip to Beijing in 2011. “The two men know each other well. And they have a legacy, a relationship. It is our only hope to stem the deadly spiral in which US-China relations are engaged.”

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Seen from the United States. At the G20 in Bali, a Biden-Xi Jinping meeting under high tension

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