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Xi Jinping is expected to attend the G20 summit in Bali next week, but whether he will meet the US president for talks while he’s there is not yet known. Photo: Xinhua

G20 summit in Bali an opportunity for Xi and Biden to meet but China and US stay silent on possible talks

  • Gathering offers a rare chance for Chinese, US leaders to meet for what would be their first face-to-face talks since Biden became president
  • But analysts question whether a meeting would improve their fractious relationship, given recent developments and global complications
All eyes are on a possible summit between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies at next week’s G20 gathering, but neither Washington nor Beijing has confirmed that a meeting will take place.

The two-day Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia starts on November 15 and will offer a rare chance for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden to meet in person.

The South China Morning Post has learned that the two sides are working to arrange talks between the two leaders, though neither side is willing to announce it publicly at this stage.

It would be their first face-to-face talks since Biden became US president almost two years ago – largely because of the worst geopolitical tensions Beijing and Washington have seen for decades and due to Covid-related travel disruptions that halted in-person diplomacy for the Chinese leader for two years.


Xi Jinping charts China’s future course at 20th party congress

Xi Jinping charts China’s future course at 20th party congress

But despite the attention it has received, neither side has publicly said whether any meeting will take place.

Zhu Feng, an international relations specialist from Nanjing University, said this reflected the stand-off between China and the US, as both hold firm on their policy demands and refuse to take the lead in reconciling.

“From China’s perspective, it wants the US to reduce repression in different areas, such as technology. And the US wants China to open up space for cooperation. The interests and claims from both sides bring competition and rivalry,” Zhu said.

Yun Sun, a China expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre, said Xi’s participation at the G20 summit had been internally confirmed but negotiations over a potential Xi-Biden meeting were not yet resolved amid a pessimistic outlook for bilateral ties.

She said people worried that when a new crisis occurred, the two countries would again be on a collision course.

Xi looks for ‘right way’ to mend China-US relations after party congress

“Nothing fundamentally changed before and after the party congress,” Sun said. “My prediction was that after the party congress there would be a short period where China will want to play nice, but as soon as a crisis arises, things will return to the old trajectory.”

The limited direct interactions between Xi and Biden over the past two years suggest that another meeting is unlikely to fundamentally change the dynamics between the two countries.

They met in a much-discussed virtual summit on November 15 last year, five days after the White House confirmed the meeting.

Then, three days after both leaders addressed core issues such as Taiwan and restated long-standing policy positions, Biden announced that the US was considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games because of concerns about China’s reported human rights abuses in Xinjiang, a move later followed by a few of Washington’s allies.

China criticised Biden’s comments on the boycott and said Xinjiang affairs were “purely China’s internal affairs” and should not be interfered with by any foreign forces.

Observers have noted that both sides have recently struck a somewhat softer tone.

A letter from Xi was presented during the annual gala of the National Committee on US-China Relations (NCUSCR) on Wednesday last week in which he said China was ready to work with the US to “find the right way to get along with each other”.

It was Xi’s first message to the US after securing his third term as Communist Party leader.

Biden also sent a message to the event, pledging to “responsibly manage the competition”.

Days after last month’s five-yearly 20th party congress, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Nicholas Burns, US ambassador to China, for a long-delayed meeting. Wang also called for ties to “return to a normal track” in a call with his US counterpart Antony Blinken two days later.

But analysts say these interactions are customary gestures in diplomacy and there is a lack of solid solutions to the issues in the relationship.


Biden in UN speech slams China over nuclear arsenal, Xinjiang but says US ‘not seeking conflict’

Biden in UN speech slams China over nuclear arsenal, Xinjiang but says US ‘not seeking conflict’

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said these interactions were nothing more than basic diplomatic courtesy and no core issues had been addressed.

“The reason for Beijing’s delayed confirmation of the Biden-Xi summit may be China’s concern about Covid prevention policy,” Shi said.

“It may also be that China is hesitant about the face-to-face meeting and thinks talks between the leaders now can’t do much to ease the already dire situation between China and the US.”

Stakes high for Biden as America votes in crucial midterm elections

The midterm elections in the US – which are set to further weaken Biden’s Democratic Party – are another factor, analysts say.

“Beijing is hesitant and not sure how Biden’s situation and position will evolve after the midterm elections,” said Lu Xiang, an expert on US-China relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“As Biden’s approval ratings have considerably declined for the past two years, I’m not sure if his administration will come up with some bizarre China policy to eliminate public discontent about his performance.”