Chinese leader Xi Jinping will arrive on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday for a long-awaited meeting with US President Joe Biden, ahead of a Group of 20 (G20) summit set to be fraught with tension over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The two leaders are expected to discuss Taiwan, Ukraine and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, issues that will also loom over the G20 that opens on Tuesday without Russian President Vladimir Putin in attendance.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent the Russian president at the G20 summit – the first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February – after the Kremlin said Putin was too busy to attend.
On the eve of his meeting with Xi, Biden told Asian leaders in Cambodia that US communication lines with China would stay open to prevent conflict, with tough talks almost certain in the days ahead.
The United States would “compete vigorously” with China while “ensuring competition does not veer into conflict”, said Biden, stressing the importance of peace in the Taiwan Strait During an address to the East Asia Summit in Cambodia. He arrived in Bali on Sunday night.
Relations between the superpowers have sunk to their lowest in decades, marred by growing tensions in recent years over a host of issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, trade practices and US restrictions on Chinese Technology.
Tension rose further after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August trip to Taiwan, the self-governed democratic island that Beijing claims as its territory. The visit enraged China, which subsequently launched military exercises near Taiwan.
But US officials said there have been quiet efforts by both Beijing and Washington over the past two months to repair ties.
“These meetings do not take place in isolation, they are part of a very sustained process,” said one Biden administration official. “We have engaged in serious, sustained – dozens and dozens of hours – of quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.
“I think we are satisfied with the seriousness that both sides have brought to that process.”
Biden and Xi, who have held five phone or video calls since Biden became president in January 2021, last met in person during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.
Monday’s face-to-face meeting will be at The Mulia, a luxury beachside hotel on Nusa Dua Bay in Bali. It is unlikely to produce a joint statement, the White House has said, but it could help stabilise the bilateral relationship.
Both leaders will attend the opening of the G20 summit on Tuesday.
One of the main topics at the G20 will be Russia’s war in Ukraine and Biden will be “unapologetic” in his defence of the European nation, US officials said last week.
Xi and Putin have grown increasingly close in recent years, bound by their shared distrust of the West, and reaffirmed their partnership just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. But China has been careful not to provide any direct material support that could trigger Western sanctions against it.
“There have been areas where China and Russia have worked together to deepen and broaden their relationship economically,” said the Biden administration official. “But on some of these big issues, I think there is undeniably some discomfort in Beijing about what we’ve seen in terms of reckless rhetoric and activity on the part of Russia.”
Russia’s Lavrov said on Sunday the West was “militarising” Southeast Asia in a bid to contain Russian and Chinese interests, setting the stage for more confrontation with Western leaders at the G20.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to meet Lavrov at the summit, a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement. He is also likely to hold a bilateral meeting with Biden.
The G20 bloc, which includes a broad array of countries ranging from Brazil to India and Germany, accounts for more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 60% of its population.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is due to join Indonesian President Joko Widodo to address a parallel B20 Business forum taking place on Monday ahead of the G20 summit.
Billionaire Elon Musk is expected to join one of the sessions virtually.