US President Joe Biden holds a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington on November 15, 2021. Photo: Reuters
Pang Zhongying
Pang Zhongying

Why Xi Jinping must meet Joe Biden in person in Bali and Bangkok

  • The G20 and Apec meetings have long been important for multilateral governance and US-China relations
  • While Xi has stated his support for the upcoming G20 Bali summit, it isn’t known if he will attend in person. Doing so would go a long way to improving bilateral ties
Will China’s President Xi Jinping meet his US counterpart Joe Biden during the forthcoming G20 and Apec summits? The 17th G20 summit will take place on November 15-16 in Bali, Indonesia. Soon afterwards, Thailand, a fellow member of Asean, will host the Apec leaders’ meeting in Bangkok on November 18-19.

Leaders of the Group of 20 nations, including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States, are expected to head for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bangkok from Bali.

In February, the Biden administration announced that the US would host the Apec meeting next year. It clearly hopes to promote its Indo-Pacific agenda, which lately includes leading the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

Meanwhile, China has criticised the US and others for seeking to replace inclusive Asia-Pacific cooperation with exclusive Indo-Pacific groupings.

G20 and Apec are the remaining concerts of powers established in the post-Cold-War era in the trans-Pacific region. Both China and the US are part of G20 and Apec, which has worked well not only for regional economic integration but also for US-China relations.

Globally, since 2008, G20 summits have helped, relatively, in mitigating financial crises and other challenges. The meetings have also served as a bridge between Chinese and American leaders. Chinese president Hu Jintao met his US counterparts George W. Bush and Barack Obama at G20 summits. Xi met Obama at the G20 St Petersburg summit in 2013. In 2016, Obama was in Hangzhou for the G20 summit.
Xi will undoubtedly join these three important summits this year and next. On July 26, he told visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Beijing that China fully supports the G20 Bali summit and its success.

But it is not clear whether Xi will go to Bali, Bangkok and the US in person. Nor is it known if he will have bilateral meetings with Biden in Indonesia or Thailand.

Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations have a role to play between China and the US. Prior to his Beijing visit, Widodo was in Washington for the US-Asean summit in May. Later that month, Indonesia and a few other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations became founding members of the US’ IPEF.

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Xi met then US president Donald Trump at G20 summits in Germany, Argentina and Japan, but he has yet to meet Biden in person since Biden became president.

China is not a member of any US-led Indo-Pacific grouping. The Quad – Australia, India, Japan and the US – cooperates in countering China. Beijing was not invited to be a founding member of the IPEF.
China applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in September last year, but there is still no consensus among CPTPP governments on Beijing’s bid. The US has refused to engage with China-led international initiatives including the Belt and Road Initiative, except to counter them.


China, Indonesia vow stronger ties as President Joko Widodo tours East Asia

China, Indonesia vow stronger ties as President Joko Widodo tours East Asia

Before Covid-19 erupted, Chinese leaders had actively attended G20 and Apec meetings to participate in multilateral governance and improve bilateral relations, particularly with the US.

However, the pandemic has disrupted in-person summits. Recent crises like the divisive war in Ukraine also make inclusive moments like the G20 family photo session difficult, if not impossible. In recent years, Xi has only attended such summits virtually. US-China relations might also have suffered due to the lack of in-person summitry.

During the US presidency of Apec in 1993, not only did the era of “open regionalism” begin to proper in the Asia-Pacific, US-China relations were also reset, when Chinese president Jiang Zemin joined the first Apec summit in Seattle at the invitation of US president Bill Clinton. That meeting was very meaningful.

Today, trans-Pacific and US-China relations are in a completely different place. However, if Xi does attend the Apec summit next year at Biden’s invitation, it will go a long way towards stopping the downward spiral in bilateral relations. We may even witness a tentative normalisation of ties, at least in the short term, ahead of the next US presidential election.

Thus, to make this Apec trip possible, with help from Asean leaders, Xi needs to meet Biden in Bali and Bangkok.

Pang Zhongying is a chair professor in international political economy at the School of Economics, Sichuan University in Chengdu