By Reuters and published by The Business Standard
Nusa Dua, Indonesia – US President Joe Biden today (Nov. 14) told Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping they were both responsible for preventing their superpower competition from turning into conflict, in rare talks aimed at thawing ties that are at their worst in decades.
Ahead of their first in-person talks since Biden became president, the two leaders smiled and shook hands warmly in front of their national flags at a luxury hotel on Indonesia’s Bali island, a day before a Group of 20 (G20) summit set to be fraught with tension over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s just great to see you,” Biden told Xi, as he put an arm around him, before a meeting that lasted a little over three hours.
However, Biden brought up a number of difficult topics during the three-hour meeting, according to a White House readout, including raising US objections to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan”, Beijing’s “non-market economic practices”, and practices in “Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and human rights more broadly”.
Biden said beforehand he was committed to keeping lines of communication open on a personal and government level.
“As the leaders of our two nations, we share responsibility, in my view, to show that China and the United States can manage our differences, prevent competition from turning into conflict, and to find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” Biden said in remarks delivered in front of reporters.
US Secretary of State Tony Blinken will travel to follow up on the discussions, the White House said.
Neither leader wore a mask to ward off Covid, though members of their delegations did.
Responding to Biden, Xi said the relationship between their two countries was not meeting global expectations.
“So we need to chart the right course for the China-US relationship. We need to find the right direction for the bilateral relationship going forward and elevate the relationship,” Xi said.
“The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle the relationship,” he said, adding he looked forward to working with Biden to bring the relationship back on the right track.
There was some early drama in Bali surrounding Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who scolded Western media over a report that said he had been taken to a local hospital, suffering from a heart condition.
“This is a kind of game that is not new in politics,” Lavrov said with an ironic smile. “Western journalists need to be more truthful.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called it “the height of fakery” and posted a video of Lavrov sitting outdoors dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and reading documents.
However, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster told Reuters Lavrov had briefly visited a local hospital for a “check-up”, and the Russian was in good health.
Indonesian officials declined to comment.
Lavrov is representing Putin at the G20 summit – the first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February – after the Kremlin said Putin was too busy to attend.
US-China relations have been roiled in recent years by growing tensions over issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, trade practices and US restrictions on Chinese technology.
But US officials said there have been quiet efforts by both Beijing and Washington over the past two months to repair ties.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters in Bali earlier that the meeting was “intended to stabilise the relationship between the United States and China, and to create a more certain atmosphere for US businesses”.
She said that Biden had been clear with China about national security concerns regarding restrictions on sensitive US technologies and had raised concern about the reliability of Chinese supply chains for commodities like minerals.
Biden and Xi, who have held five phone or video calls since Biden became president in January 2021, last met in person during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.
G20 summit host President Joko Widodo of Indonesia said he hoped the gathering on Tuesday could “deliver concrete partnerships that can help the world in its economic recovery”.
However, one of the main topics at the G20 will be Russia’s war in Ukraine and Biden will be “unapologetic” in his defence of the European nation, US officials said last week.
Xi and Putin have grown increasingly close in recent years, bound by their shared distrust of the West, and reaffirmed their partnership just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. But China has been careful not to provide any direct material support that could trigger Western sanctions against it.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang emphasised the “irresponsibility” of nuclear threats during the summit in Cambodia, suggesting China was uncomfortable with strategic partner Russia’s nuclear rhetoric, the Biden administration official said.
The West has accused Russia of making irresponsible statements on the possible use of nuclear weapons since its February invasion of Ukraine. Russia has in turn accused the West of “provocative” nuclear rhetoric.
Russia’s Lavrov said on Sunday the West was “militarising” Southeast Asia in a bid to contain Russian and Chinese interests.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he would address the G20 by videolink on Tuesday.
US President Joe Biden meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia, today, November 14, 2022. Photos: Reuters, top photo published The Business Standard, Front Page photo by The Straits Times