Nov 14, 2022 - World

Biden and Xi say U.S. and China should compete "responsibly"

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and China's President Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov. 14. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

BALI, Indonesia — President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed during a meeting today to establish regular channels of communication between key officials and to carefully manage the U.S.-China relationship going forward.

Why it matters: The meeting, held on the sidelines of the G20 summit, marked the first time the two leaders have met since Biden became president and seems to have met the Biden administration's stated goal of establishing guardrails to responsibly manage competition between the two superpowers.

What they're saying: The two leaders "agreed to empower key senior officials to maintain communication and deepen constructive efforts on these and other issues," according to the White House readout.

  • "We're going to compete vigorously but we are not looking for conflict," Biden said in a Monday evening press conference, adding they had "an open and candid conversation" about their respective intentions and our priorities.
  • Xi made a surprisingly candid admission that the state of U.S.-China relations was "not what the international community expects from us," according to the readout from the meeting provided by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, adding that the relationship needs to be put "on an upward trajectory."

Details: Biden emphasized that America's one-China policy — officially not taking a public position on if the U.S. would come to Taiwan's defense — has not changed, despite his repeated claims over the past year that the U.S. would defend Taiwan in case of attack from China.

Between the lines: "This is a positive sign that after almost two years in which the two sides have mostly talked past each other and focused on strengthening their respective negotiating hands that they are now ready to engage each other on a number of issues," said Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at International Crisis Group.

Yes, but: Vast differences remain between the two countries.

  • Biden raised concerns over Beijing's economic coercion, human rights record, aggression against Taiwan, and policies in Xinjiang and Tibet.
  • Xi emphasized Beijing's position that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China and that the foundation of U.S.-China relations hinges on U.S. recognition of China’s interests in Taiwan.

The big picture: Bilateral relations between the world's two superpowers have deteriorated dramatically over the past few years, amid tensions over COVID, trade, espionage, cybersecurity, Taiwan and more.

  • Beijing cut off several key channels of communication with the U.S. after Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier this year, the first House speaker to do so in 25 years.

What to watch: Biden and Xi agreed on a future visit to China by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to follow up on today's meeting.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

Go deeper