NUSA DUA, Indonesia – Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Joe Biden expressed the desire for their countries to work together to manage tensions and avoid conflict, as they met in person on Monday for the first time since Mr Biden took office almost two years ago.
Acknowledging that the current state of bilateral relations was not what the international community had hoped for, the two leaders indicated that they were ready to work towards getting relations back on track and having their countries play key roles in addressing global challenges.
Before the start of the closely watched meeting, the two leaders shook hands and smiled for the cameras on the Indonesian island of Bali, on the eve of the Group of 20 (G-20) Leaders’ Summit.
“Mr President, it is good to see you,” Mr Xi told Mr Biden in his opening remarks, as he promised to have “a candid and in-depth exchange of views” on bilateral issues as well as major regional and global matters.
Relations between the two superpowers have deteriorated as they clashed over Taiwan, Russia’s war in Ukraine and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
The intense rivalry worsened after the visit to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Aug 2, despite Beijing’s warnings.
The visit enraged China, which launched military exercises near Taiwan and cancelled some cooperation projects with the US.
But Monday’s meeting showed the two presidents were ready to soothe prickly relations. It was a meeting that, in Mr Xi’s words, “attracted the world’s attention”.
“So, we need to work with all countries to bring more hope to world peace, greater confidence in global stability and stronger impetus to common development,” he said.
Mr Biden called for “continuing and ongoing open and honest dialogue we have always had”, adding that they need to find ways to work together on urgent global issues, which he believes is critical for the sake of the two countries and the international community.
Mr Xi also acknowledged that current bilateral ties are something of concern as they are “not the fundamental interests of our two countries and peoples, and not what the international community expects of us”.
He said he looked forward to working with Mr Biden to bring the relations “back to the track of healthy and stable growth to the benefit of the two countries and the world as a whole”.
“We need to find the right direction for the bilateral relationship going forward and elevate the relationship,” he added.
The two leaders had previously spoken over the phone or via video call five times, with the most recent phone call in July.
In a statement issued after the meeting in Bali that lasted over three hours, the White House cited Mr Biden as saying that both countries must “maintain open lines of communication” and manage competition responsibly. It also said that both leaders had tasked their teams to discuss ways to do this.
They also agreed to have officials deepen communication on transnational challenges, including climate change, global macroeconomic stability and food security, said the White House statement.
During the meeting, both sides also discussed issues including the war in Ukraine, trade and Taiwan.
The White House said the two leaders reiterated their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought, and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
On Taiwan, Mr Xi said this was “the very core of China’s core interests”, calling it the first “red line that must not be crossed” in bilateral relations.
“Anyone that seeks to split Taiwan from China will be violating the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation; the Chinese people will absolutely not let that happen,” said Mr Xi, according to the Chinese statement of the meeting.
Both sides also agreed that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit China for further talks.
Mr Xi and Mr Biden are among 17 heads of state and governments who will gather on Tuesday and Wednesday for the G-20 Leaders’ Summit.
Analysts have said the war in Ukraine – which has sparked food and energy crises – could dominate the summit talks.
Indonesia’s G-20 presidency has been challenged by the conflict, with some countries initially threatening to boycott the summit should Russian President Vladimir Putin attend.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will represent Mr Putin, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to deliver a video address on Tuesday.