Biden says he was ‘blunt’ with Xi on areas of tension but touts cooperation

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President Biden on Wednesday announced that he had reached three key areas of cooperation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, even as the president said he pushed hard on some of the most fraught issues between Washington and Beijing. 

The president described Xi as a “dictator,” following what appeared to look like a friendly bilateral summit in San Francisco. Biden was earlier seen joking while sitting across from Xi at the start of the meeting, and showed a photo on his cellphone of Xi as a young man in San Francisco in 1985. 

Still, the president touted what he described as critically important breakthroughs in his meeting with Xi.

“I welcome the positive steps we’ve taken today,” Biden said at a press conference following his meeting with the Chinese leader. 

“We’re talking to our competitors and just talking, just being blunt with one another, so there’s no misunderstanding, as a key element to maintaining global stability and delivering for the American people.” 

That included reestablishing direct military-to-military contacts that were severed last year, a priority area for the president that he views as essential to avoid any potentially disastrous, accidental conflicts. 

“Vital miscalculations on either side can cause real trouble with a country like China, or any other major country, and so I think we’re making real progress there as well,” Biden said. 

The president’s meeting with Xi took place on the sidelines of the APEC business summit. It was the first contact between the two leaders in nearly a year, since they last met face-to-face on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. 

Biden said that Xi agreed to keep lines of communication open between the two leaders. 

“He and I agreed that if each one wants to pick up the phone, call directly, and will be heard immediately,” he said. 

The president said he had also reached agreement with Xi on restarting cooperation on counternarcotics, with the U.S. pushing for China to crackdown on the export of chemicals that are used to manufacture fentanyl, the deadly opioid responsible for tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. 

Another priority goal for the president was to get Xi to sign onto discussions about the responsible use of Artificial Intelligence.

“We’re going to get our experts together to discuss risk and safety issues associated with artificial intelligence,” Biden said. 

But Biden also clashed with Xi on the fate of Americans detained in China. Biden didn’t name the Americans detained but they some have earlier been identified as Mark Swidan, Kai Li and David Lin. The president also raised with the Chinese leader U.S. opposition to the practice of placing exit-bans on American citizens, a practice Beijing uses to prevent what it views as suspicious persons from leaving the country.  

“I gave him names of individuals we think are being held and hopefully we can get them released as well. No agreement on that. No agreement on that,” Biden said. 

The president also raised the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait, “Russia’s refusal to stop the brutal war of aggression against Ukraine,” where China has sided with Moscow; and Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, “human rights and coercive [Chinese] activities in the South China Sea.” 

Even as the areas of confrontation seemed to outnumber the points of cooperation, a senior administration official sought to stress Biden’s effort to connect with Xi personally, in particular wishing the Chinese leader’s wife a happy birthday, which she shares with the president. 

Xi said he was embarrassed, the senior administration official recounted, saying that he had been working so hard he had forgotten the date of her birthday is next week, and thanked Biden for reminding him.

Updated 9:53 p.m.

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