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California scheming: Chinese and US leaders meet to smooth out superpower relations

US President Joe Biden has met Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time in a year for talks that may ease friction between the two superpowers over military conflicts, drug-trafficking and artificial intelligence.

Nov 16, 2023, updated Nov 16, 2023
President Joe Biden greets China’s President President Xi Jinping at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, Calif., Wednesday, Nov, 15, 2023, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative conference. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden greets China’s President President Xi Jinping at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, Calif., Wednesday, Nov, 15, 2023, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative conference. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Biden welcomed the Chinese leader at the Filoli estate, a country house and gardens about 50km south of San Francisco, where they will move later for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The US and Chinese leaders will be seeking to reduce friction in what many see as the world’s most important relationship but deep progress on the vast differences separating them may have to wait for another day.

Officials on both sides of the Pacific have set expectations low as Biden and Xi are set to discuss Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Israel-Hamas war, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea and human rights – areas where the leaders have been unable to resolve long-standing disagreements.

Biden and Xi arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday where they will both participate in the APEC summit.

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

Experts say Xi will be looking for a smooth summit with Biden to show those at home concerned about the economy and dwindling foreign investment that he can successfully handle relations between the world’s two largest economies.

Efforts to carefully choreograph Xi’s visit may be up-ended in San Francisco despite efforts to drive homeless people from the streets.

The route from the airport to the conference site was lined with demonstrators for and against China’s ruling Communist Party, an unusual sight for Xi, who last visited the United States in 2017.

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Biden, 80, presides over an economy that has outperformed expectations and most rich countries after the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is seeking a second term in office.

He has corralled the country’s traditional allies from Europe to Asia to confront Russia in Ukraine although some have differences over the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Xi, a decade Biden’s junior, has tightened control over policy, state leaders, the media and military and changing the constitution.

But economic challenges have thrown the country off its three-decade growth trajectory.

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