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Biden and China's Xi met for three hours. Here's what they talked about

President Biden and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands as they begin talks in Bali.
Saul Loeb
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands as they begin talks in Bali.

Updated November 14, 2022 at 6:03 AM ET

BALI - President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping began their high-stakes meeting on Monday expressing willingness to discuss key issues in what has become increasingly fraught relationship between the two superpowers.

The two countries have disagreements on everything from the status of Taiwan, to trade and technology, and over Russia's war in Ukraine.

"As the leaders of our two nations, we share responsibility in my view to show that China and the US can a mange our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything nearing conflict and to find ways to work together on urgent, global issues that require our mutual cooperation," Biden said to Xi as the meeting began.

Xi told Biden that the bilateral relationship currently "is not what the international community expects" and said the leaders need to "elevate the relationship."

"In our meeting today, I'm ready to have a candid — as we always did --have a candid and in-depth exchange of views with you," Xi told Biden.

While the two leaders have met before over the years, this is their first face-to-face meeting since Biden became president. The two leaders agreed to sit down together in Bali, Indonesia just ahead of the G-20 summit. After the meeting, Biden is set to give remarks and take questions at 8:30 a.m. ET (9:30 p.m. local).

President Biden and China's President Xi Jinping meet with their delegations in Bali.
Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden and China's President Xi Jinping meet with their delegations in Bali.

The White House has downplayed expectations for the meeting

The White House has been downplaying expectations for any agreements or joint statements to come out of the meeting given the lack of common ground between the leaders, instead casting it as a chance for some frank talk about the tensions between the two countries.

"He'll have that opportunity to sit, to be totally straightforward and direct and to hear President Xi be totally straightforward and direct in return," Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters traveling on Air Force One to Bali.

The White House hopes the leaders "come out of that meeting with a better understanding and a way to responsibly manage this relationship and the competition," Sullivan said.

The meeting comes on heels of the midterm elections, where Democrats held the Senate and narrowed their losses in the House of Representatives, giving Biden a lift heading into his international travels. Sullivan said leaders who met with Biden at stops in Egypt and Cambodia were keenly aware of the midterm results.

In Beijing, at the recently concluded Party Congress, Xi consolidated his power, securing a third term as head of China's ruling Communist Party and appointing a slate of his loyalists into top political and military positions. But he also faces a weak domestic economy that has cratered in large part to strict zero-COVID policies and dramatic property regulations championed by Xi.

President Biden, center, talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the start of the meeting with the Chinese delegation. Also seen here are National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, left, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right.
Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden, center, talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the start of the meeting with the Chinese delegation. Also seen here are National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, left, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right.

Xi has indicated he is looking to appease an otherwise-fraught relationship with the U.S. "China stands ready to work with the United States to find the right way to get along with each other," he said in a congratulatory message during a gala dinner at the U.S. nonprofit, the National Committee on United States-China Relations.

Yet China has been pushing for the U.S. to agree to a litany of political demands the U.S. has either said or indicated are nonnegotiable.

Last year, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi presented a list of three core demands to American diplomats in the Chinese port city of Tianjin. Among them: not to interfere with China's political system, to not hinder China's development, and to respect Beijing's claims over territories like Hong Kong or the democratic island of Taiwan.

The latter has been one of the biggest flashpoints in the relationship is the self-governed island of Taiwan. Beijing has long claimed Taiwan as its own, and has said that, while it prefers to unify peacefully, it will use force, if needed. Biden has made a series of provocative statements about whether the U.S. was prepared to defend Taiwan — though the White House has insisted its position has not wavered from long-held policy on the island.

The White House has insisted going into the Xi-Biden meeting that president Biden's focus was not about finding common ground, but rather ensuring lines of communication remained open in the future.

"I think it's more, how can we find ways to communicate about those issues where we have deep fundamental differences of perspective or concerns, but we need to be having continued and ongoing conversation," said a senior administration official briefing reporters before Biden met with Xi.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

President Biden was greeted by Balinese dancers upon his arrival to the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Sunday Nov. 13.
Made Nagi / AP
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AP
President Biden was greeted by Balinese dancers upon his arrival to the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Sunday Nov. 13.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.