U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday discussed ways “to responsibly manage” the intensifying competition between their two countries in their first face-to-face meeting as leaders of the world’s two biggest powers.
Both agreed to resume engagement on issues such as climate change and to work together on maintaining global economic stability. Both leaders, however, struck clearly different positions on many of the issues currently straining ties, from trade and Taiwan to human rights and Russia's war in Ukraine.
Even the question of “competition” in the relationship elicited starkly different statements from the two leaders in their talks in Bali ahead of the G20 summit. Mr. Biden said the U.S. “will continue to compete vigorously with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including by investing in sources of strength at home and aligning efforts with allies and partners around the world.” He added that “this competition should not veer into conflict” and that “the U.S. and China must manage the competition responsibly”.
Mr. Xi’s remarks reflected Beijing’s continued displeasure at the Biden administration’s emphasis on competition, and moves such as the recent export control ban on chips. He told the U.S. President that “the current state of China-U.S. relations is not in the fundamental interests of our two countries and peoples” and that “relations should not be a zero-sum game where one side out-competes or thrives at the expense of the other.” He noted China’s opposition to “starting a trade war or a technology war, building walls and barriers, pushing for decoupling and severing supply chains.”
The two readouts from Beijing and Washington reflected both sides underlining their positions on key differences rather than any apparent resolution of them. The White House said Mr. Biden “raised Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and Russia’s irresponsible threats of nuclear use” and said both leaders “underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.” The Chinese statement did not mention those concerns and instead quoted Mr. Xi as saying China “supports and looks forward to a resumption of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine” and “at the same time hopes the U.S., NATO and the EU will conduct comprehensive dialogues with Russia.”
Mr. Biden also “raised concerns about PRC practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and human rights more broadly” and “raised U.S. objections to the PRC’s coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan”. Both issues brought sharp responses from Mr. Xi, who warned that “anyone that seeks to split Taiwan from China will be violating the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation”. On human rights, he pointedly told Mr. Biden that “no country has a perfect democratic system” and “just as the United States has American-style democracy, China has Chinese-style democracy, both fit their respective national conditions.”