Xi & Biden meet in San Francisco after almost a year apart, have candid meeting about having better meetings

It probably could not have been an email.

Tan Min-Wei | November 16, 2023, 03:22 PM


On Nov. 15, the presidents of the United States and China, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, met in San Francisco to hold the first face-to-face talks between the pair since the G20 summit in Bali, almost exactly a year ago in 2022.

In a largely cordial meeting, the two world leaders agreed on several measures to improve communications between the two governments, aimed at addressing several of both countries most pressing concerns.

Who you gonna call?

The talks were described by Global Times, the media outlet backed by the Communist Party of China, as a “candid and in depth” exchange of views on strategic, overarching, and directional issues concerning China- U.S. relations.

Both countries agreed to strengthen dialogue and cooperation in many fields, but likely the most important one would be an agreement to resume high level military communications.

Military communications were suspended between the two superpowers in 2022 when then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi chose to visit Taiwan against the express wishes of China's government, as reported by Bloomberg.

In addition, China's then-Minister of National Defence, Li Shangfu, was either unwilling or unable to meet with his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin, ostensibly due to sanctions levelled on him by the U.S.

Li even refused a meeting between the two on the side-lines of the 2023 Shangri-La dialogue held in Singapore.

Austin had to satisfy himself with a chance meeting at the dinner table, but other than a handshake and a greeting there was no substantial communication.

The need for such communication was highlighted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Foreign Minister Wang Yi during recent talks prior to the Biden and Xi meeting.

Bloomberg quoted Blinken as saying that the table he and Wang were sitting at, was about the same distance between a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. B-52 in the international airspace over the South China Sea during a recent incident.

Li has since been removed from his post for unknown reasons, but because of the Biden-Xi talks, Austin will be able to meet Lee's replacement after he is eventually announced.

AI and Fentanyl

Another area in which both countries agreed to improved communications was on the topic of artificial intelligence, where both sides agreed to a dialogue to ensure that the emerging technology would not be deployed in ways that could destabilise global security, reported by Bloomberg.

But as was noted by the New York Times, both sides were unable to agree on a direct channel of communication, only that they should continue to discuss the topic.

Reuters further reported that the two leaders had agreed to “get experts together” in order to discuss the risk of artificial intelligence.

Both countries also came to an agreement that China would stem the export of items related to the production fentanyl, the drug at the heart of the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States.

Reuters quoted Biden as saying that he appreciated Xi's commitment on the issue, and that the agreement would ultimately save lives.


The sore spot of China-U.S. relations, Taiwan, was also discussed during the talks.

Reuters reported on the back-and-forth about Taiwan, saying that Xi had told Biden that China preferred  peaceful reunification, but that regardless there would be a need to "move towards resolution" on Taiwan.

Biden said that the U.S. believed in the status quo, and asked for China to respect Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election.

Xi also said that the United States should stop sending weapons to Taiwan, and ultimately support the peaceful reunification of China and Taiwan.

Five pillars

The Global Times reported Xi's statement that amidst unprecedented changes in the global environment, both countries had two choices, either strengthening unity and cooperation in order to meet global challenges, or to hold a zero-sum mindset and let the world head towards” "turmoil and division".

The Global Times quoted Xi as saying that great power competition would not solve either country's problems, and that “the planet is big enough for both the China and the US. The success of each is an opportunity for the other”, and that China's development would ultimately follow its own logic and rules.

Xinhua reported that Xi had called on both states to assume a new vision and "build together five pillars for bilateral relations".

It did not explicitly name the five pillars, but broadly they included:

  • A stable healthy and sustainable relationship
  • Safeguarding of China's interests, not crossing its red lines
  • More communication between the two countries
  • Jointly advance mutually beneficial cooperation
  • Jointly shoulder responsibilities as major countries

Blunt and candid

Reuters reported that Biden had put the success of the meeting due to the two sides being blunt with one another, so as to avoid misunderstanding.

However there were moments of levity in between the serious talks.

Bloomberg noted a light-hearted interaction between the two, where Xi thanked Biden for reminding him about his wife's birthday celebration, as both Biden's and Xi's wife’s birthday occur on the same day.

But in the aftermath of the talks, Biden was asked if he still considered Xi a dictator, to which Biden said yes, keeping with previous comments.

“Well, look, he is”, he said simply, as quoted by Bloomberg.

As Global Times had said, the talks were candid.

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Top image via @POTUS/X