Biden-Xi virtual summit set for Monday evening amid rising China tensions

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Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013.

Lintao Zhang | Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will hold a highly anticipated virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday evening, CNBC has confirmed.

Biden and Xi have held two phone calls since Biden took office in January, the most recently on September 9. But Monday’s summit will be the first time in Biden’s term that they have communicated face-to-face in a formal summit format.

Traditionally, world leader to leader summits are carefully choreographed to produce some kind of tangible outcome. But senior White House officials said the Biden-Xi summit will not be like that.

“This is not about seeking specific deliverables or outcomes,” said one administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss an agenda that was still being finalized on Friday.

“This is about setting the terms of an effective competition where we are in the position to defend our values and interests and those of our allies and partners,” the official said. “We believe when such terms—or guardrails—are established, we can sustain a vigorous competition.”

The summit comes as the United States and China are at odds on major geopolitical issues like trade, human rights, military buildup, Taiwan and cybersecurity.

China has been scaling up military exercises near Taiwan in recent months, a show of force that has not gone unnoticed by the Biden administration.

Beijing has also drawn international condemnation for its campaign to “reeducate” members of its Uyghur Muslim minority ethnic group. This “reeducation” push includes forced labor, the mass incarceration of over a million people in “reeducation” camps and the alleged sterilization of Uyghur women.

In March, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on several officials in Xinjiang Province, the traditional homeland of the Uyghur people. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has labeled the treatment of Uyghurs in China a “genocide.”

On trade, Beijing has been pushing the Biden administration to lift Trump-era tariffs on over $350 billion worth of Chinese goods. But Washington has stalled, choosing instead to leave the tariffs in place and try to open a new round of trade talks.

Yet despite these deep divisions between the two countries, Biden is making it a priority to maintain open lines of communication with Beijing.

“Intense competition requires intense diplomacy,” said the White House official. “As President Biden has made clear, he welcomes the stiff competition, but does not want conflict.”

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Recently, Washington and Beijing have sought to highlight their cooperation on issues where the two countries’ interests converge.

This cooperation was on view last Wednesday at the COP24 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

There, Chinese and American envoys announced a surprise joint agreement to set new targets for scaling back fossil fuel consumption.

Together, the United States and China are responsible for more than 35% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, although China produces more than double what America does.

Climate change is one of the few issues where Washington and Beijing can see eye to eye. More often, the two countries are on opposite sides.

Under Xi, China’s one party Communist government has strived to dethrone the United States as the world’s number one economic and political power.

To do that, it has exerted its economic influence around the globe, financing infrastructure projects in the developing world and forging purely transactional alliances with countries.

Back home, the Communist party has violently suppressed dissidents in Hong Kong, and gradually restricted freedoms enjoyed for a century by citizens of the former British protectorate.

For the White House, these gradual developments are part of an even longer-term Chinese plan that in some ways presents more of a threat to the United States than any one of the strategic issues alone.

In both words and deeds, China is trying to provide the world with an attractive alternative to liberal, rules-based democracy. The message from Beijing is that democracy has failed to deliver for its people, and that human rights and individual liberties are overrated.

Biden has responded to this looming threat by working to unify U.S. allies in the Pacific, at the G7 conference and in NATO.

“We’re in a contest — not with China per se — but a contest with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in the rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden said at a NATO summit earlier this year.



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