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Expectations Low for Biden-Xi Meeting in Bali


FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, Nov. 6, 2021, left, and China's President Xi Jinping in Brasília, Brazil, Nov. 13, 2019. Biden says he hopes to use the meeting with Xi to discuss efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication between the two countries.

A highly anticipated meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping is set for Monday in Bali, Indonesia, on the sidelines of a G-20 summit of the world’s major economies.

The pair will discuss efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication between the two countries, responsibly manage competition, and work together where interests align, according to a statement from the White House.

“The president will be honest about a number of our concerns, including PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] activity that threatens peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, as well as our long-standing concerns about human rights violations and more broadly the concerns we and our allies and partners have about China's harmful economic practices,” a senior administration official said in a briefing with reporters.

This would be Biden's first in-person engagement with Xi since taking office in 2021. The pair have met virtually and spoken over the phone five times, including during their last interaction in July.

Expectations are low. The Bali meeting is more of an effort to keep open lines of communication between the rivals and is not expected to generate any kind of joint statement.

"This is really not a meeting that's being driven by the deliverables," the official said.

According to the official, Biden will raise global and regional issues, including the war in Ukraine and recent maneuvers by North Korea, which in recent weeks launched dozens of missiles and deployed military flights close to its border with South Korea. The official declined to elaborate on what specific assistance Biden might ask of Xi on restraining Kim Jong Un’s provocations.

Beijing has not officially confirmed the meeting.

"The Chinese side takes seriously the U.S. proposal for a meeting between the two presidents in Bali," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during his Thursday press briefing. "The teams on both sides are in communication on this."

Zhao would not confirm that Xi will be attending the Bali summit in person.

"I have no information to offer at this moment," he said.

Beyond Taiwan

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told VOA in an interview Thursday that Taipei supports the Biden and Xi meeting.

“China has been threatening Taiwan militarily and trying to isolate Taiwan internationally. They refuse to speak with Taiwan's officials," said Wu. "Therefore, this is a condition or a situation for the international leaders to think about how to resolve the differences between Taiwan and China, and to establish an environment that is conducive to peace and stability in this region.”

China views Taiwan as a wayward province and has not ruled out an invasion.

Beyond the issue of Taiwan, a long-standing source of friction between Beijing and Washington involves new U.S. export control rules, launched in October, on semiconductor technology. The rules aim to restrict China’s “ability to both purchase and manufacture certain high-end chips used in military applications,” according to the Biden administration.

The new controls impose unprecedented licensing requirements on the sale of advanced chips, software, and a wide range of semiconductor manufacturing equipment used to produce chips that power Chinese military and artificial intelligence technologies, as well as numerous consumer products.

The rules constitute a two-pronged attack on China’s semiconductor industry, said Matthew Reynolds, a fellow with the Economics Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It’s focused at one end on keeping the most advanced chips out of China, and at the other preventing China from developing the capability to manufacture leading-edge chips.

As Beijing becomes more squeezed by U.S. tariffs and export controls, it is approaching ASEAN leaders in their summit in Phnom Penh beginning Friday to accelerate negotiations for the ASEAN China Free Trade Area “Version 3.0.” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is in Phnom Penh this week to meet with the bloc’s 10 leaders.

Biden will also meet with ASEAN leaders this week, to offer the U.S. alternative — the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) — which Washington launched in May. While it’s framed as a key step in the U.S. effort to re-engage Indo-Pacific nations on trade more than five years after the United States withdrew from the regional trade deal Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the IPEF does not include market access or tariff reduction provisions — trade incentives that countries in the region desire.

Domestic politics

Biden will arrive in Bali following the extremely tight U.S. midterm race where it is still not clear whether Democrats will be able to hold on to their slim majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Xi has just been re-elected by the Chinese Communist Party as its general secretary, securing his term as the country’s leader for a precedent-breaking third term.

The Chinese leader will likely treat the G-20 summit as his “coming out party,” said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center.

“I would not be surprised if Xi Jinping will use these opportunities to demonstrate that not only his bilateral relations with multiple countries are in their best shape, he will also try to build China's image as this super superpower,” she told VOA.

Biden said that he will reiterate to Xi that he is “looking for competition, not conflict.”

“And so, what I want to do with him when we talk is lay out what each of our red lines are. Understand what he believes to be in the critical national interest of China. What I know to be the critical interest of the United States and to determine whether or not they conflict with one another," Biden said during a press conference Wednesday.

The bilateral U.S.-China relationship has been conducted on a limited basis over the past two years because of the tension between the two sides and since China has virtually been shut down since the start of the pandemic, Andrew Small, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, told VOA.

“This will be a first point at which perhaps a bit more space opens up for some essential bilateral exchanges,” he said. “Some of that had been made needlessly difficult by these dynamics, and I think this meeting is intended to make that somewhat easier again."

VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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