What to expect from the Biden-Xi virtual summit

Biden and Xi meet again, this time virtually.
Biden and Xi meet again, this time virtually.
Image: Reuters/Mike Theiler
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

US president Joe Biden and president Xi Jinping of China will hold a virtual summit on Monday (Nov.15 ), a meeting US officials are billing as an opportunity to ease growing tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

The White House sees the conversation as a way to set the terms of the contentious relationship going forward, and does not expect it to result in any concrete agreements. “We believe and understand intense competition as part of that relationship,”  press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing. “We also believe that that requires intense diplomacy.”

A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the meeting and said the two leaders will exchange views on matters of mutual concern.

Biden and Xi head into the gathering amid very different political backdrops at home. Xi is fresh off a major political win that consolidates his power and paves the way for a potential third term as president. Biden, meanwhile, has seen his approval ratings dip to new lows as he struggles with his own party to pass his big-ticket spending plans.

Here are the topics that will likely come up when the two meet:

💱 Trade tensions

The two leaders will likely touch upon a deadline by the end of the year for China to purchase an additional $200 billion worth of US products, including energy, agriculture, medical devices, and airplanes. It’s part of a trade deal signed by president Donald Trump in 2019, intended to de-escalate the trade war between the two countries. But China has been slow to keep its end of the deal—it’s estimated to be 40% short of the agreed purchase.

⚔️ Escalating military tension

Earlier this month, Xi raised concerns about a return to Cold War rhetoric and tensions, an apparent response to US efforts to rally allies to counter China’s growing military and economic power. The US has increased its presence in the South China Sea; Beijing meanwhile has been building up its nuclear capability. The escalation on both sides will likely be a topic of conversation.

🌎 Climate change

The US and China pledged to cooperate more deeply through a joint surprise announcement at COP26, a sign that discussions around this topic during the summit could be amicable.

🇹🇼 Taiwan

A more tense topic of discussion will likely be the two countries’ stance on Taiwan. In a call ahead of the Biden-Xi summit, US State secretary Antony Blinken brought up concerns of Chinese military and economic pressure over Taiwan, while Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warned that any support for Taiwanese independence would undermine peace in the Taiwan Strait.

🕊️ Human rights

Biden will likely bring up ongoing human rights concerns for activists in China, activities in Hong Kong, and the treatment of Uighurs. Most notably, the US would like to ensure that forced labor is not part of the supply chain process.

🏅 An Olympics invitation?

Xi is expected to invite Biden to the Beijing Winter Olympics, which will be held in February. That would put Biden in a tough spot, given his administration’s condemnation of human rights abuse in China.