© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington, U.S. November 15, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Nandita Bose and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden hopes to forge guidelines for competing with China when he meets Xi Jinping next week, but he will be honest about U.S. concerns, including over Taiwan and human rights, a senior administration official said on Thursday.
“The president believes it is critical to build a floor for the relationship and ensure that there are rules of the road that bound our competition,” the official told reporters in a call on the meeting.
The White House said Biden will hold talks on Monday with Xi, China’s president, on the sidelines of a Group of 20 nations summit in Indonesia, their first face-to-face meeting since Biden became president in January 2021.
U.S. ties with China have been strained, most notably since U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August trip to Taiwan, the self-governed democratic island that Beijing claims as its territory.
China is Washington’s main strategic rival and the world’s second largest economy after the United States. The United States is looking to have stable relations with Beijing despite tensions over Taiwan, the South China Sea, trade and a host of other issues.
The senior administration official said there would be no joint statement from a meeting at which there are no expectations for specific agreements.
“I expect the president will be honest about a number of our concerns, including PRC (People’s Republic of China) activity that threatens peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, as well as our longstanding concerns about human rights violations,” the official said.
Russia’s war in Ukraine and North Korea would likely be discussed, the official said.
Biden said on Wednesday that he was unwilling to make any fundamental concessions when he meets Xi, and that he wanted both leaders to lay out their “red lines” and resolve areas of conflict, including on Taiwan.
The White House sought to maintain a dialogue that China decided to cut off after Pelosi’s visit in such areas as climate and military-to-military communications, the official said, but there was no expectation the two leaders would be able to sit down and solve all their problems.
The United States had taken note of Xi’s “important” remarks about non-use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine after Xi agreed during a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last week that both leaders opposed their use, the official said.
Ukraine’s Western allies have accused Russia of threatening to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, though Moscow denies doing so, and China has refrained from criticizing Russia for the invasion or from calling on Moscow to withdraw its troops.
The United States and its allies believe North Korea may be about to resume nuclear bomb testing for the first time since 2017 and have accused both China and Russia of enabling Pyongyang’s missile and bomb programs by failing to properly enforce United Nations Security Council sanctions intended to impede them.
While both Russia and China backed toughened sanctions after North Korea’s last nuclear test, in May they vetoed a U.S.-led push to impose more U.N. sanctions over North Korea’s renewed ballistic missile launches.
Washington believes China and Russia have leverage to persuade North Korea not to resume nuclear bomb testing.
“This is an area where China and the United States have had a history of working together … there is a track record of being able to work together. And so I think the president will approach the conversation in that spirit,” the official said.
For Xi, who cemented his leadership at a Communist Party Congress last month, the meeting with Biden takes place as China’s economy struggles with strict COVID-19 prevention measures.
Those measures, and Xi’s limited travel abroad since the pandemic began, have meant his previous five meetings with Biden were conducted virtually.
The U.S. official said the two sides were discussing COVID-19 protocols for the meeting but did not elaborate.