Biden & Xi: The World’s Most Important Relationship

The November APEC meeting between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping represented efforts for the two nations to again rebuild relations. While the primary goal was to reactivate lines of communication, it was also able to cover topics such as counternarcotics, the expansion of airline travel and AI. The meeting may not seem particularly impactful on its own, but the simple act of reestablishing bilateral communication apparatuses between these two powers is significant in preventing escalation, giving each a mechanism to look behind the other’s public-facing remarks.

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Biden XI Relationship

Then-Vice Presidents Biden and Xi first met in 2011 under a very different political climate in both nations. As both ascended to become the heads of their respective states, their relationship has continued to have geopolitical twists and turns throughout, with massive global implications.

Biden called Xi within his first month as president, followed by four more calls over the following 20 months. Despite semi-regular communication, the first two Biden years were not without tensions, as the administration inherited a complex diplomatic situation and moved forward on policies that impacted China, such as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), semiconductor restrictions and Biden’s offhand comments that undercut the U.S. position of strategic ambiguity on Taiwan.

This tension would come to a boil upon then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, resulting in China cutting off a set of bilateral processes, including those related to military communication, counternarcotics and climate change. At the 2022 G7 in Bali, Biden and Xi would meet in person, where work would be made to rebuild bilateral communications. There, Biden highlighted his “five noes” that illustrated U.S. red lines in the relationship. Not long after Bali, however, the relationship once again faced turmoil, with a Chinese balloon being spotted and shot down over the continental United States, leading Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing. The postponement caused China to pause high-level official meetings for three months until Blinken rescheduled, which was followed by a series of additional meetings between high-level officials. This would eventually lead to the November APEC meeting.

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Implications for the Private Sector

The newly established dialogues between the two countries will be critical next year as the United States heads into the presidential election and political rhetoric on China becomes heated. Working-level dialogue is an important insulator, both for the overall bilateral relationship and for the Biden administration as it seeks to carry out its work on China out of the spotlight.

APEC Key Outcomes

The Select Committee on the CCP sent a letter requesting the names of U.S. business leaders who met with President Xi at a banquet during APEC week, previewing the hostility toward China that will likely pervade during the 2024 election cycle. With China facing moderating economic growth, significant youth unemployment and cratering foreign direct investment, there is an economic incentive for Xi to try to work with the Biden administration and industry leaders to prevent continued de-risking efforts. Biden’s political situation is similarly difficult at the moment, possibly causing both leaders to be cautious to evade an economic slump that could prove politically damning for both.

At a surface level, the APEC meeting was positive for those relying on this relationship for market security and stability, as a return to active communication channels protects everyone’s security interests. The relationship, however, still remains delicate and complex. Both leaders must navigate their nation’s domestic and international political puzzles for their own self-preservation, which one can only hope will not result in yet another popping of the relationship.