“Turning our backs on each other is not realistic”: Xi makes first US trip since 2017

On the 15th of November, President Xi Jinping of China met with his US counterpart in San Francisco, California for the first time in a year. This is also Xi’s first visit to the United States since 2017, when he met with then-president Donald Trump. After what the White House described as a “candid and constructive” meeting, Biden hailed their progress and called the talks “some of the most productive discussions we’ve had”.

Both parties agreed on the importance of communication, as Xi said that “turning our backs on each other is not realistic” for the two countries. A presidential hotline between Beijing and Washington will be opened. More importantly, military-to-military dialogue will resume after being frozen since then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August. The two leaders also agreed on cooperating to tackle climate issues, as well as China stepping up to curb Chinese chemicals related to fentanyl production from flowing into the US.

The biggest sticking point of the meeting was Taiwan. In a “clear-headed” and “not heated” discussion, both sides reiterated their positions on the matter. Biden reaffirmed the US’s “One China” policy and belief in peaceful resolution under any circumstances while Xi asked Biden to “stop arming Taiwan, and support China’s peaceful reunification”. They also discussed the coming election in Taiwan next January, where Biden said that he “expects no interference” from the Chinese government.

Other matters raised at the meeting included Xi expressing his displeasure about US sanctions in the Chinese tech sector. Biden pressed Xi to use China’s influence on Iran to keep the Israel-Hamas conflict from spreading, as well as continue withholding military support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. Potential risks from the advancement of artificial intelligence were also discussed during the talks.

On the Chinese Twitter-like microblogging platform Weibo, popular topics are mostly about the personal rapport between the leaders. One of the hashtags that topped the Hot Search list is “#中美元首一起看38年前的照片#” (“the heads of states from China and America looking at a photograph from 38 years ago”), which got 24.32 million views. This topic is about a photo of Xi, then Party secretary of Zhengding County, Hebei, at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on his visit to the United States in 1985. Another topic about Biden’s comment on Xi’s Chinese-made limousine “拜登指着红旗车说beautiful#” (“Biden says beautiful while pointing at a Hongqi car”) reached number 2 on the list with 220 million views in total.

What Xi described as “the most important bilateral relationship in the world” has been at its lowest point in decades following tensions over issues like Taiwan, espionage allegations and sanctions in the tech sector, as well as Biden calling Xi a dictator, which he repeated after the meeting with the Chinese president. With fear of competition escalating into conflict, establishing “open, clear, direct communications” between the two sides’ militaries and governments will be a welcome step towards stabilising this relationship.


Join our newsletter