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China’s Xi tells Biden as talks open: ‘Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed’

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FILE - Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right, greets Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng on Nov. 9, 2023, in San Francisco.
FILE - Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right, greets Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng on Nov. 9, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File) Photo Gallery

WOODSIDE, Calif. (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping plunged into their first-face-to-face meeting in more than a year Wednesday pledging to work to stabilize fraught relations in talks with far-reaching implications for a world grappling with economic cross currents and wars in the Middle East and Europe.

“Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed,” Xi told Biden.

The U.S. president told Xi: “I think it’s paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader-to-leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunications. We have to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”

The two warmly shook hands as they met and made a red carpet entrance to a bucolic Northern California estate for what was expected to be hours of work on detangling a multitude of tensions.

Xi, speaking through a translator, said the relationship between China and the U.S. has never been smooth but has kept moving forward. “For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option,” he said.

More pointedly, he also suggested it was not up to the U.S. to dictate how the Chinese manage their affairs, saying, “It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other, and conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.”

Since the two leaders last met, already difficult relations have been further strained by the U.S. downing of a Chinese spy balloon that had traversed the continental U.S. and by differences on the self-ruled island of Taiwan, China’s hacking of a Biden official’s emails and other incidents.

Biden was expected to let Xi know that he would like China to use its sway over Iran to make clear that Tehran or its proxies should not take action that could lead to expansion of the Israel-Hamas war. The Biden administration sees the Chinese, a big buyer of Iranian oil, as having considerable leverage with Iran, which is a major backer of Hamas.

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, senior White House officials said Biden would walk away with more concrete results than from the leaders’ last talks, in November 2022 in Bali, Indonesia on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit. There will be agreements from China to help stop the flow of chemicals used in the production of illicit fentanyl, and to revive communications between the militaries — increasingly important as incidents between the two nations’ ships and aircraft have spiked.

Biden on Tuesday billed the meeting as a chance to get Washington and Beijing back “on a normal course corresponding” once again.

But White House National Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden was “not going to be afraid to confront where confrontation is needed on issues where we don’t see eye to eye.”

“We’re also not going to be afraid, nor should we be afraid, as a confident nation, to engage in diplomacy on ways which we can cooperate with China — on climate change, for instance, and clean energy technology,” Kirby said.

Biden is focused on managing the two powers’ increasingly fierce economic competition and keeping open lines of communication to prevent misunderstandings that could lead to direct conflict.

While he was expected to defend U.S. expansion of export controls on semiconductor chips, he also was to assure Xi that the U.S. is not trying to wage economic war with Beijing amid continuing signs that China’s economy is struggling to recover from the disruptions of the pandemic.

Xi, meanwhile, was looking for assurances from Biden that the U.S. will not support Taiwan independence, start a new Cold War or suppress China’s economic growth. He was also keen to show the U.S. that China is still a good place to invest.

Even before their meeting, there were some signs of a thaw: The State Department on Tuesday announced that the U.S. and China — two of the world’s biggest polluters — had agreed to pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, through wind, solar and other renewables.

Biden and Xi are in California for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, but they met one-on-one at Filoli Estate, a country house and museum about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of San Francisco.

The APEC summit events already have attracted considerable demonstrations and more were expected, including protests against Xi and against multinational corporations focused on profits.

In the hours before the meeting, White House officials said Biden was coming into the talks bolstered by signs the U.S. economy is in a stronger position than China’s, and that the U.S. is building stronger alliances throughout the Pacific.

The U.S. president, speaking at a campaign fundraiser on Tuesday evening, pointed to his upcoming meeting as an example of how “reestablished American leadership in the world is taking hold.” As for China, the president told donors, it has ”real problems.”

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

Biden, meanwhile, has taken pride in proving wrong economists who predicted that millions of layoffs and a recession might be needed to bring down inflation in the U.S. 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.

Xi, after his meeting with Biden on Wednesday, was addressing American business executives at a $2,000-per-plate dinner — a rare opportunity for U.S. business leaders to hear directly from the Chinese president as they seek clarification on Beijing’s expanding security rules that may choke foreign investment.

Foreign companies operating in China say U.S.-Chinese tensions over technology, trade and other issues and uncertainty over Chinese policies are damaging the business environment and causing some to reassess their plans for investing in the giant market.

A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters ahead of the meeting said one big reason why Xi decided to make the trip to the U.S. was to send a message to American CEOs that China was still a good place to invest. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.

Robert Moritz, global chairman for the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, said business leaders are looking for signs of more cooperation and a firmer commitment to free trade between the world’s two largest economies following Wednesday’s meeting between Biden and Xi.

“What we are looking for is a de-escalation and a bringing of the temperature down,” Mortiz said during a CEO summit in conjunction with APEC.

“Discussion isn’t good enough, it’s the execution on getting things done” that will matter, he said.

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