SAN FRANCISCO — President Joe Biden will meet face-to-face with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Wednesday, breaking a yearlong silence marked by rising tensions that have stoked fears their countries are on a path toward war.
The summit will take place in San Francisco this morning at a location U.S. officials declined to reveal out of security concerns.
It will be the first time that Biden and Xi have talked — much less met — since a meeting on the sidelines of an international summit in Bali, Indonesia, one year ago.
Since that time, relations between the U.S. and China have soured in ways that elevate the risk of an unwanted confrontation, U.S. officials said. As an example, when the Biden administration shot down a Chinese spy balloon that crossed the U.S. in February, the Pentagon had no one in China to contact because Beijing had closed an important military communications channel, a senior Biden administration official told reporters Tuesday while previewing the Biden-Xi meeting.
“It is true that when the Chinese spy balloon went across the United States we had no way to communicate with the Chinese,” the official said. “That’s not responsible and we hope to at least take some preliminary steps” toward improving communications.
U.S. officials believe that Biden enters the meeting from a position of strength. While the Chinese economy is struggling with high youth unemployment and disinvestment from foreign companies, Biden has boasted of robust economic growth in the U.S. accompanied by a low jobless rate.
After he arrived in San Francisco Tuesday, Biden attended an evening fundraising event in which he said: “President Xi is another example of how re-establishing American leadership in the world is taking hold. They’ve got real problems, folks.”
No major breakthroughs were anticipated in advance of the summit. But the two leaders are expected to agree on steps to curb the flow of fentanyl from China to the U.S. and revive military communication channels that China closed in response to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year.
The Chinese claim Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy, as its own, and they viewed Pelosi’s trip as a provocation warranting a reprisal against the U.S.
“One of the key objectives that President Biden has is the resumption of military-to-military contact,” the senior official said. “So, we want to see operational dialogues, we want to see policy dialogues at the highest level and we want to see the commanders have a dialogue about operations in the Indo-Pacific.”
Another of Biden’s aims may prove tougher to realize. Biden would like to see China use its influence with Iran to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from widening. He is likely to press Xi to call on Iran to stay clear of the war and keep its proxies in Middle East from attacking Israel.
At lower governmental levels, U.S. officials have already made that point to the Chinese, telling them that “any escalation would be met forcefully by the United States, and to urge the leaders in Tehran not to not spur elements in the region that could lead to a wider conflagration,” the senior official said.