Biden-Xi Meeting in San Francisco: What to Expect and Why No Major Breakthroughs are Anticipated

The much-anticipated meeting between President Joe Biden and the Chinese leader Xi Jinping is set to take place next week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. However, the White House has indicated that this face-to-face meeting may not result in significant changes to the relationship between the two nations, according to a person familiar with the planning.

The White House had announced recently that the US and China had reached an agreement in principle for Biden and Xi to meet in person on the sidelines of the summit, marking the first engagement between the leaders in a tumultuous year for relations between the world’s two biggest economic powers. As Biden prepares to arrive in San Francisco for the summit, the official timing and logistical details of the meeting have not been formally confirmed.

It is believed by the US government that some modest announcements may be made following their meeting, but it is anticipated that the fundamental differences in the relationship will remain unchanged, as per an anonymous source. Jude Blanchette, chair of China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, commented that both leaders intend to set low expectations for the meeting, aiming for a deep conversation that allows both sides to directly express their concerns and creates space for further constructive engagement, particularly within the Chinese system.

Efforts have been made by both the US and China to prepare for this anticipated meeting. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng in San Francisco ahead of the summit’s official start. This comes after a series of high-level US-China meetings and engagements, including a conversation between Biden and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the White House, as well as a visit by Yellen to Beijing where she urged Chinese officials to cooperate on global challenges despite trade disagreements.

The relationship between the US and China has become increasingly complex over the past year, with tensions heightened due to various issues such as U.S. export controls on advanced technology, actions toward Taiwan, and stopovers by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in the US. The handling of Taiwan has been a particularly sensitive issue for Beijing, viewing official American contact with the island as a sign of support for its independence. Under the “One China” policy, the US recognizes Beijing as the government of China and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but still considers Taipei an important partner in the Indo-Pacific.


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