Updated Nov 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

White House says Biden and Xi will hold virtual summit on Nov. 15

Then-Vice Premier Xi and then-Vice President Biden at the White House in 2012. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden will hold a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, marking the most public direct engagement between the two leaders since Biden took office, the White House announced Friday.

Why it matters: The Biden administration views the rise of China as the top geopolitical challenge that the U.S. will face in the 21st century, but has stressed the need for cooperation with the world's second-largest economy.

The backdrop: The video conference will come just weeks after Biden rebuked Xi for not attending COP26 or presenting any new climate commitments in his written address to the global summit.

  • "The rest of the world looked at China and said, 'Well, what value are they providing?'" Biden said in his final press conference in Glasgow. "And they've lost an ability to influence people around the world and all the people at COP."
  • Days later, China agreed in a surprise joint statement with the U.S. to "raise ambition in the 2020s" to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

What they're saying: "The two leaders will discuss ways to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC, as well as ways to work together where our interests align," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

  • "Throughout, President Biden will make clear U.S. intentions and priorities and be clear and candid about our concerns with the PRC."
  • Psaki later said at a press briefing that she does not expect Biden to hold a press conference after the summit, which will take place in the evening.

The big picture: Biden has said that the U.S. and China must cooperate on issues of mutual interest, such as climate change, but that the relationship will largely be defined by intense competition.

  • He has stressed that the U.S. is not seeking conflict or attempting to constrain China, but that Beijing must adhere to the international rules-based order.
  • In a letter to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations this week, Xi said that cooperation is "the only right choice," and that "China stands ready to work with the United States" to confront global challenges and reset the relationship.
  • Lower-level talks between the two sides have devolved into chaos at various points over the past year, with Chinese officials berating their U.S. counterparts for their criticisms of Beijing's behavior.

Driving the news: The summit comes amid new concerns about the rapid pace of China's nuclear expansion and testing of advanced weapons capabilities. Beijing's military intimidation of Taiwan has also escalated in recent months.

What to watch: Biden will almost certainly raise those military issues at the summit with Xi, in addition to U.S. concerns about China's genocide of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, trade abuses and more.

  • China has made it clear that it opposes any "interference" by the U.S. in its domestic affairs, and has condemned the new Indo-Pacific security pact through which the U.S. and U.K. will help Australia obtain nuclear-powered submarines.
  • It's still unclear how the Biden administration plans to approach the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which begins in February. Human rights groups have called for a diplomatic boycott.
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