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Biden Says His Goal for Xi Meeting in SF Is to Get US-China Communications Back to 'Normal'
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By Associated Press
Published 5 months ago on
November 15, 2023

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SAN FRANCISCO — President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping swept into San Francisco on Tuesday as the two leaders made their final preparations for their first engagement in a year at a historic estate outside of the city.

Biden expressed hope that the talks would help put a shaky U.S.-China relationship — marked by sharp differences over the last year — in a better place. The two leaders arrived in the city to be greeted by hundreds of demonstrators who lined up along their motorcade routes, waving Chinese, Taiwanese and Tibetan flags as well as signs in support of and opposition to the Chinese leader.

Biden, before leaving Washington to make his way West on Tuesday to attend this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, said his broad goal was to get Washington and Beijing “on a normal course corresponding” once again even as they have sharp differences on no shortage of issues.

“Being able to pick up the phone and talk to one another if there’s a crisis. Being able to make sure our militaries still have contact with one another,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “We’re not trying to decouple from China, but what we’re trying to do is change the relationship for the better.”

The two leaders will meet at Filoli Estate, a country house museum about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of San Francisco, according to three senior administration officials. The officials requested anonymity to discuss the venue, which has not yet been confirmed by the White House and Chinese government.

The State Department announced Tuesday that the two countries, the world’s two biggest pollutera, have agreed to “pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030,” an effort to step up wind, solar and other renewable energy.

The announcement came after John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, met earlier this month with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, at the Sunnylands estate in southern California for talks on the matter.

Separately, a U.S. official confirmed that Biden and Xi are expected to announce an agreement that would restore talks under what’s known as the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement. The agreement is used by the U.S. and People’s Liberation Army navies and air forces to improve safety in the air and sea. Until 2020, they had been meeting regularly since 1998 for the talks. The official requested anonymity to preview the expected leaders’ announcement.

Biden arrived at San Francisco International Airport Tuesday afternoon and Xi landed shortly after. The Chinese president was welcomed on the tarmac by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered on the leaders’ motorcade route, some holding signs that read “End CCP,” the initials of Chinese Communist Party. Another sign read “Warmly Welcome President Xi Jinping” and was affixed to concrete bollards.

Demonstrators Gather Near Meeting Venue

Pro-China and anti-China demonstrators also gathered near the Moscone Center, the venue where many APEC meetings were being held.

Beijing supporters waved U.S. and Chinese flags as they waited for Xi’s motorcade to arrive at the swanky hotel near the convention center where the Chinese delegation is staying. Several supporters used oversized Chinese national flags to obscure the few Xi critics there and used loudspeakers to play the patriotic “Ode to the Motherland.”

Scuffles broke out between the two groups, but police quickly intervened to maintain order. The crowds were kept out of the road by tall, metal barriers.

Wei Gong, of Charlottesville, Virginia, brought her 9-year-old daughter, Deanna Wei, to welcome Xi. Her child wore a traditional Chinese, horse-face skirt and held U.S. and Chinese flags.

“I have never seen him,” the mother said of Xi. “We just want to see him.”

Later, protesters gathered just blocks from the Moscone Center to call for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Biden, despite his busy diplomatic agenda, took some time Tuesday evening to tend to his 2024 reelection campaign, joining Newsom and Vice President Kamala Harris for a fundraiser at San Francisco’s iconic Merchant Exchange Club.

The long complicated U.S.-Chinese relationship has come under heavy strain over the last year, with Beijing bristling over new U.S. export controls on advanced technology; Biden ordering the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon after it traversed the continental United States; and Chinese anger over a stopover in the U.S. by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen earlier this year, among other issues. China claims the island as its territory.

The talks at Filoli will give the leaders a chance to try to dial back tensions in a picturesque backdrop.

The sprawling estate along Northern California’s coastal range features a Georgian revival-style mansion and English Renaissance gardens. It was built in 1917 as a private residence but was opened to the public in 1975 as a nonprofit and site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Wealthy San Francisco socialite William Bowers Bourn II named Filoli by taking the first two letters of key words of his personal credo, according to the estate’s website: “Fight for a just cause. Love your Fellow Man. Live a Good Life.” The estate’s gardens feature in Jennifer Lopez’s film “The Wedding Planner.”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden is coming to Wednesday’s meeting in a strong position.

“He’s not going to be afraid to —- to confront where confrontation is needed on issues where we don’t see eye to eye with President Xi and the PRC,” said Kirby, using the initials for the People’s Republic of China.

Biden will also be looking to use this week’s summit of Asia-Pacific leaders to demonstrate that the United States has the gumption, attention span and money to focus on the region even as it grapples with a multitude of foreign and domestic policy crises.

The White House wants to demonstrate that Biden can remain focused on the Pacific while also trying to keep the Israel-Hamas war from exploding into a broader regional conflict and to persuade Republican lawmakers to continue to spend billions more on the costly Ukrainian effort to repel Russia’s nearly 21-month old invasion.

White House officials say they are also cognizant that fellow APEC nations want to see better dialogue between the U.S. and China because it reduces the risk of regional conflict. At the same time, they also know that others in the region are concerned that the Pacific is too often seen through a prism in which the dominant power centers in Washington and Beijing make decisions for the region without engagement from less powerful nations.

Biden enters the Xi meeting feeling buoyed by the U.S. economy’s strong performance. While the majority of U.S. adults believe the economy is weak, Biden has managed to prove wrong a large swath of economists who predicted that millions of layoffs and a recession might be needed to bring down inflation. The Labor Department said Tuesday that consumer prices rose at an annual pace of 3.2% annually, down from a June 2022 peak of 9.1%. Meanwhile, employers keep hiring and the unemployment rate has held below 4% for nearly two years.

Beijing released economic data last month that shows prices falling due to slack demand from consumers and businesses. The International Monetary Fund recently cut growth forecasts for China, predicting economic growth of 5% this year and 4.2% in 2024, down slightly from its forecasts in July.

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