Biden says ‘blunt’ talks with Xi yield deals on military, fentanyl, AI

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference about his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the start of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Woodside, California, U.S., November 15, 2023. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

 U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed on Wednesday to resume military-to-military communications and work to curb fentanyl production, two major outcomes from their first face-to-face talks in a year.

Biden and Xi met for about four hours on the outskirts of San Francisco, covered issues that have strained U.S.-Chinese relations, and agreed to commit to closer communication.

The two governments said Biden and Xi agreed to resume military contacts that China severed after then-House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022.

“We’re back to direct, open clear direct communication on a direct basis,” Biden said, adding miscalculations can cause real trouble with any major country.

Biden requested that both countries institutionalize the military-to-military dialogues, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will meet his Chinese counterpart when that person is named, a senior U.S. official said.

U.S. and China’s militaries have had a number of near-misses and acrimonious exchanges over the past year.

Biden and Xi agreed China would stem the export of items related to the production of the opioid fentanyl, a leading cause of drug overdoses in the United States. “It’s going to save lives,” Biden said, adding he appreciated Xi’s “commitment” on the issue.

Under the agreement, China will go directly after specific chemical companies that make fentanyl precursors, a senior U.S. official told reporters.

The two leaders also agreed to get experts together to discuss the risks of artificial intelligence.

Biden ascribed the success of their meeting to “just talking, just being blunt with one another so there’s no misunderstanding.”

A U.S. official described an exchange over Taiwan, the democratic island that China claims as its territory. China’s preference is for peaceful reunification with the Chinese-claimed island of Taiwan, Xi told Biden, the U.S. official said, but Xi went on to talk about conditions in which force could be used.

Biden said the U.S. “believed in the status quo, and that we asked the Chinese to respect the electoral process in Taiwan,” the official said.

“President Xi responded look, peace is all well and good, but at some point we need to move towards resolution more generally,” the official quoted Xi as saying.

Xi also urged the United States to stop sending weapons to Taiwan and support China’s peaceful “reunification” with Taiwan, Chinese state media said.

Biden asked Xi to use his influence with Iran to urge Tehran not to launch proxy attacks on U.S. targets in the Middle East as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues in Gaza, the U.S. official said.

Biden welcomed the Chinese leader at the Filoli estate, a country house and gardens about 30 miles (48 km) south of San Francisco, where they will move later for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Xi came into the meeting looking for respect from the United States as China’s economy struggles to recover from sluggish growth.

Biden, who had long sought the meeting, struck a welcoming tone aimed at showing respect, and treated him as a major player on global hotspots.

“Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed,” Xi told Biden as they and their delegations sat across from each other at a long table.

Biden said the U.S. and China had to ensure that competition between them “does not veer into conflict” and manage their relationship “responsibly.” He said issues such as climate change, counter-narcotics and AI demanded their joint attention.

After a morning session of talks and before heading into lunch with Xi, Biden said on social media platform X, it was vital they understood each other “leader to leader.”

“There are critical global challenges that demand our joint leadership. And today, we made real progress,” he said, without elaborating.

After lunch, the leaders took a short walk together in the manicured garden of the mansion following an interaction that lasted around four hours. Biden waved to reporters and gave a two thumbs up sign when asked how the talks were going. “Well,” he said.

A White House statement said the leaders “held a candid and constructive discussion on a range of bilateral and global issues and exchanged views on areas of difference.”

Xi told Biden as they began their talks a lot had happened since their last meeting a year ago in Bali. “The world has emerged from the COVID pandemic, but is still under its tremendous impacts. The global economy is recovering, but its momentum remains sluggish.”

He called the U.S.-China relationship “the most important bilateral relationship in the world,” and said he and Biden “shoulder heavy responsibilities for the two peoples, for the world, and for history.”

“For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option,” he said. “It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other, and conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.”

The leaders will be seeking to reduce friction but deep progress on the vast differences separating them may have to wait for another day.

Leaders from the 21-country group APEC – and hundreds of CEOs in San Francisco to court them – are meeting amid relative Chinese economic weakness, Beijing’s territorial feuds with neighbors and a Middle East conflict that is dividing the United States from allies.

— Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Michael Martina, Martin Pollard, Jeff Mason, David Lawder, David Brunnstrom and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Josie Kao and Stephen Coates