President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met for more than three hours Monday, their first in-person sit-down since the US president took office – one that could have ripple effects around the world.
Biden and Xi walked toward each other from opposite sides of a hotel lobby and shook hands in front of a row of US and Chinese flags just after 5:30 p.m. local time. They smiled for cameras and Xi – through a translator – appeared to say, “Good to see you.”
“As 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 becoming anything ever nearing conflict and to find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” Biden said as the talks got underway.
“The world expects, I believe, China and the United States to play key roles in addressing global challenges,” he said.
Speaking second, Xi seemed to offer what could be interpreted as a pointed message to his counterpart, who has spent more than half-a-century on the world stage.
“A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country,” Xi said through a translator. “He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world.”
The two leaders’ talks Monday could have consequences stretching months or even years as the world’s largest economies veer toward increasingly hostile relations.
The moments spent together on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit here will amount to only a fraction of the time the two men have been in each other’s company since 2011. Biden has claimed that as vice president, he spent north of 70 hours with Xi and traveled 17,000 miles with him across China and the United States – both exaggerations, but still reflective of a relationship that is now perhaps the most important on the planet.
Biden hopes coming face-to-face again after nearly two years communicating only by phone and video-conference can yield a more strategically valuable result, even if he enters the talks with little expectation they can produce anything concrete.
At the beginning of their bilateral meeting in Bali, Biden said he found substance in “face-to-face discussions” between the two leaders.
“As you know, I’m committed to keeping lines of communications open – between you and me personally but our government across the board, as our two countries have so much that we have an opportunity to deal with,” Biden said.