© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One at San Francisco International Airport, as he arrives to attend the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S., November 14, 2023. REUTERS/Brittany
By Trevor Hunnicutt
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time in a year on Wednesday for talks that may ease friction between the two superpowers over military conflicts, drug-trafficking and artificial intelligence.
But deep progress on the vast differences separating them may have to wait for another day.
Officials on both sides of the Pacific have set expectations low as Biden and Xi are set to discuss Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Israel-Hamas war, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea and human rights – areas where the leaders have been unable to resolve long-standing disagreements.
Biden and Xi arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday, where they were set to meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Leaders from the 21-country group – and hundreds of CEOs in San Francisco to court them – meet amid Chinese economic weakness, Beijing’s territorial feuds with neighbors, and a Middle East conflict that is dividing the United States from allies.
Efforts to carefully choreograph Xi’s visit may be upended in San Francisco despite efforts to drive homeless people from the streets. The route from the airport to the conference site was lined with demonstrators for and against China’s ruling Communist Party, an unusual sight for Xi, who last visited the United States in 2017.
Biden has sought direct diplomacy with Xi, betting that a personal relationship he has cultivated for a dozen years with the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong might salvage ties that are increasingly turning hostile.
Chong Ja Ian, a political science professor at the National University of Singapore, said the two sides are engaged in what Mao referred to during the Chinese civil war as “talk and fight, fight and talk”.
“That is, to talk while building up forces,” Chong said.
Xi and Biden are expected to meet far from the conference location at Filoli Estate, miles outside of San Francisco and carefully chosen for its security, serenity and remoteness.
The White House hopes the meeting could set the stage for further talks between the world’s biggest economies.
“We’re all expecting that this will be a productive discussion today, and hopefully, a precursor to much more communication and dialogue between our two teams going forward,” White House spokesperson John Kirby (NYSE:) told reporters ahead of the meeting.
IRAN, ELECTION INTERFERENCE, FENTANYL
During the meeting, Biden is expected to press Xi to use China’s influence to urge Iran to avoid provocative action or encouraging its proxies to enter the fray in what, moves that could spread the Israel-Hamas conflict across the Middle East.
He is also expected to raise alleged Chinese operations to influence foreign elections, the status of U.S. citizens that Washington believes are wrongly detained in China and human rights, including what Washington says is an ongoing genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region.
“I think you can fully expect that the president will raise our concerns over human rights in China to include the issue of the Uyghurs,” Kirby said.
U.S. officials expected concrete steps to restore staff-level conversations between the two countries on issues from military-to-military communications to reducing the flow of fentanyl, managing the growth of artificial intelligence technologies, and managing trade and climate.
Many of the chemicals used to make fentanyl come from China, U.S. officials say.
Before the meeting, both countries backed a new renewable energy target and said they would work to reduce methane and plastic pollution, a renewal of climate cooperate suspended after former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in 2022.
Biden, 80, presides over an economy that has outperformed expectations and most rich nations after the COVID-19 pandemic. He is seeking a second term in office.
He has corralled the nation’s traditional allies from Europe to Asia to confront Russia in Ukraine, although some have differences over the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Xi, a decade Biden’s junior, has tightened control over policy, state leaders, the media and military and changing the constitution. But economic challenges have thrown the country off its three-decade growth trajectory.
Government officials across the region expect Beijing to test Washington in coming weeks, taking advantage of the United States’ perceived shift in focus on Ukraine and Israel as it pursues its own ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.
Biden is expected to tell Xi that U.S. commitments in the Indo-Pacific are unchanged. China has worried its neighbors in recent years with steps in the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea and East China Sea, areas of international dispute.