Woodside, Calif.: President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping emerged Wednesday from their first face-to-face meeting in a year vowing to stabilize their fraught relationship and showcasing modest agreements to combat illegal fentanyl and re-establish military communications. But there were still deep differences on economic competition and global security threats.
The most assuring takeaway from the meeting for Biden was that if either man had a concern, “we should pick up the phone and call one another and we’ll take the call. That’s important progress,” he said in a news conference following the talks.
Another positive sign: Xi signaled later Wednesday that China would send the U.S. new pandas, just a week after three from the Smithsonian National Zoo were returned to China much to the dismay of Americans. There are only four left in the United States — at the Atlanta Zoo, and their loan agreement expires next year.
The two leaders spent four hours together at a bucolic Northern California estate — in meetings, a working lunch and a garden stroll — intent on showing the world that while they are global economic competitors they’re not locked in a winner-take-all faceoff.
“Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed,” Xi told Biden.
Biden told Xi: “I think it’s paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader-to-leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunications. We have to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”
Their meeting, on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, has far-reaching implications for a world grappling with economic cross currents, conflicts in the Middle East and Europe, tensions in Taiwan and more
They reached expected agreements to curb illicit fentanyl production and to reopen military ties, Biden said. Many of the chemicals used to make synthetic fentanyl come from China to cartels that traffic the powerful narcotic into the U.S., which is facing an overdose crisis.
Top military leaders will resume talks, Biden said, an increasingly important move particularly as unsafe or unprofessional incidents between the two nations’ ships and aircraft have spiked.
Ultimately, the agreements rely on trust between the two leaders.
“I know the man, I know his modus operandi,” Biden said of Xi. “We have disagreements but he’s been straight.”
But he still said Xi was a dictator … “in a sense.”