In times of severe political tensions between the USA and China, the two Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met for the first time for talks at the highest level. The two heads of state met before the G20 summit of the most important industrialized and emerging countries on the Indonesian island of Bali. Since Biden’s election victory two years ago, they had called each other several times, but had not seen each other in person. In Bali, the two greeted each other with a handshake.

At the start of the meeting, which was scheduled to last several hours, Xi said that the mutual relationship was “facing a lot of challenges”. “As leaders of two great countries, we must chart the right path for US-China bilateral relations as we move forward.” He described the duties of a statesman in these words. “He should also think about how to deal with other countries and the wider world.”

Biden emphasized that the competition between the two countries should not become a conflict. Both countries have a “responsibility” to deal with their differences and to find areas of cooperation. This is also crucial for the well-being of the international community. So it’s important to keep in touch. The US and China played key roles in addressing global challenges.

Both the US and China are members of the G20, whose heads of state and government are meeting in Bali this Tuesday and Wednesday for their annual summit. Originally, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been heavily criticized internationally because of the war in Ukraine, was also expected. However, the Kremlin boss is now being represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

White House: Communication should always be possible

Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned before the meeting: “The President sees the US and China in fierce competition. But this competition should not turn into a conflict or a confrontation and should be regulated responsibly.” All countries should act according to a set of “well-established and agreed rules”. “The use of intimidation, coercion or aggression” should be avoided.

In the conversation, Biden will ensure that there are “guard rails” and “traffic rules” in the competition, a senior White House official said before the start. You want to reduce “room for misunderstandings”. Communication should always be possible – regardless of whether the relationships are better or worse. Biden and Xi had previously met at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017. At the time, Biden was Vice President under Barack Obama.

Those are the issues

The list of contentious issues is long: China’s backing for Putin after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the trade war between the two countries, Chinese threats against democratic Taiwan and territorial claims in the South China Sea. China, in turn, accuses the United States of wanting to hinder its rise in the world. The US increasingly sees China as a rival and a threat.

The goal of the conversation is also to find areas where interests match, Sullivan said. He cited climate change and the health of our own population as examples. Biden has been in Bali since Sunday. On Monday he first met Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo. The US government announced that it would provide more support to the huge country with more than 275 million people in the areas of climate protection and development aid.