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Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held a high-profile summit in San Francisco on Wednesday in a renewed attempt to stabilize U.S.-China relations after several years of rising tensions and growing concerns about a possible conflict over Taiwan.
The U.S. government played down expectations ahead of the meeting, saying it was focused on managing the risks of further deterioration in relations and avoiding conflict rather than spectacular results.
It is the second face-to-face meeting between Biden and Xi since the US president took office in 2021 and will last four hours. They met at the Filoli estate south of San Francisco and had lunch before attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in the city with other world leaders.
Biden and Xi held their first summit a year ago on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, where they agreed on the need to ensure that intense competition between the U.S. and China “does not result in conflict.” . But efforts to create a “footnote” for the relationship failed when a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over North America in February.
The presidents were expected to discuss a range of issues, including U.S. concerns about China’s military activities around Taiwan and its rapidly growing nuclear arsenal. Chinese officials said Xi’s priority is Taiwan, but he would likely address Biden’s efforts to restrict China’s access to the advanced chips needed for artificial intelligence applications.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden would raise concerns about China’s human rights abuses, including its treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, in his talks with Xi.
“We firmly believe that the situation must be remedied and these people must be granted civil and human rights,” Kirby said. “Our desire for the situation to change will not diminish.”
Instead of dining with Biden on Wednesday evening, Xi will attend a dinner with American business leaders in San Francisco as part of Chinese efforts to ease U.S. concerns about investment in the country.
Leaders are expected to reach some modest agreements in San Francisco, including reopening military communications channels that China closed after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August 2022 visit to Taiwan.
China has also agreed to crack down on the flow of chemicals to Mexican cartels that are used to make fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid.
A senior US official said the Biden team had “realistic expectations” of possible agreements, but added that it was important to meet to manage the relationship responsibly, including to reassure American allies.
In recent months, several U.S. Cabinet secretaries have visited Beijing, partly in recognition that Washington needs to step up high-level engagement to reduce misunderstandings and adequately explain policies that both sides don’t like.
“Allies and partners are probably a little relieved that the U.S. has these bilateral communication channels and can speak directly with China about difficult aspects of the relationship, whether those are specific irritants like technology controls or overarching issues like Taiwan.” and regional stability,” said Emily Kilcrease, an expert at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington.
Over the past three years, U.S. allies have become increasingly concerned about the possibility of a conflict over Taiwan as the Chinese military becomes more aggressive on the island and Washington does more to help Taipei defend itself in the face of increasing economic and military pressure from Beijing.
The US and its allies are also concerned about the increasing pace of risky maneuvers by Chinese warplanes near their spy planes. China responded by accusing the US of flying too close to its coast – a criticism Washington rejects because the planes fly in international airspace.
Concerns about a possible conflict over Taiwan have waned in recent months, particularly after the Pentagon warned senior officials against making public predictions about when China might attack Taiwan. During a visit to Tokyo last week, Gen. Charles Brown, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed Xi did not want to use force against Taiwan if it could be avoided.
But U.S. allies were keen for the summit to continue to ensure powers were engaged at the highest levels and had mechanisms in place to deal with crises. China only recently confirmed Xi’s participation. She sought assurances that the U.S. would not do anything to embarrass Xi during his visit.
Xi had not visited the United States since April 2017, when he met then-President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. As the leaders ate dinner that evening, Trump informed Xi that the U.S. had just attacked Syria with dozens of cruise missiles.