Biden and Xi to lay out non-negotiable conditions on dealing with Taiwan

Both sides see Bali meeting as chance to stabilise relations between world’s two biggest powers ahead of G20

When Xi Jinping and Joe Biden meet on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday, they will each lay out for the other a set of red lines that must not be crossed in dealing with Taiwan. But both sides see the meeting as an opportunity to stabilise the relationship between the world’s two biggest powers and to slow its downward spiral.

Mr Biden said on Sunday that he expected to have a straightforward discussion with Mr Xi, whom he has known since he was vice-president under Barack Obama.

“I’ve spent more time with him than any other world leader. I know him well. He knows me. There’s no – we have very little misunderstanding. We just got to figure out where the red lines are and what are the most important things to each of us going into the next two years,” he said in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, where he was attending the East Asia Summit.

Mr Biden suggested that the Democratic Party’s strong performance in last week’s midterm elections strengthened his position, although he acknowledged that Mr Xi’s standing had also been enhanced after he was confirmed for a third five-year term as China’s leader.


Andy Mok, a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalisation (CCG) in Beijing, said Mr Xi would be laying out some red lines too, particularly in the wake of house speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August. China responded to the visit, which broke with a convention that the most senior US politicians do not visit the island, with a series of unprecedented exercises around Taiwan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

It’s important in order to stop the deterioration in their relations, to start to build trust and to take steps to begin to work towards resolving the many individual issues between the two countries

“Prior to the visit, China was very clear that it would take this matter very seriously. And what happened immediately after was that indeed, a number of long existing norms were then changed in response to the provocation by House Speaker Pelosi,” Mr Mok said.

“If you look at the informal arrangements about where PLA aircraft would fly, where ships would go, that clearly was now set aside. I think what China has done is shown that it not only has the ability, but, if provoked, will certainly more broadly encircle Taiwan, in particular on the eastern side of the island and with flights over the dividing line. I think the message will be that the US should not test China’s resolve here. I think that would be a very important red line that will be communicated.”

Mr Biden was the first US president to attend the East Asia Summit, which was held alongside a meeting of leaders of the 10 ASEAN countries, since 2017. China has long been the most important economic partner for the ASEAN countries, which include Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Myanmar.

But Washington has sought to strengthen its ties with ASEAN as part of a broader Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at countering China’s dominant position in the region. Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said Mr Xi and Mr Biden should speak frankly during their meeting on Monday in order to improve relations.

“It’s important in order to stop the deterioration in their relations, to start to build trust and to take steps to begin to work towards resolving the many individual issues – which are very difficult ones – between the two countries,” he said.

The meeting in Bali will come in advance of a meeting of G20 leaders and Mr Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said it could last a couple of hours. He said the president would tell Mr Xi that the US is not seeking a conflict with China.

“The president sees the United States and China as being engaged in a stiff competition, but that competition should not tip over into conflict or confrontation,” Mr Sullivan said.

He said the meeting was not an attempt to “reset” the relationship but suggested there were areas where the two countries can work together.

Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo said on Sunday that Southeast Asia must not become the front line of a new Cold War between the United States and China.

“ASEAN must become a peaceful region and anchor for global stability, consistently uphold international law and not be a proxy to any powers,” he said.

“ASEAN should not let the current geopolitical dynamic turn into a new Cold War in our region.”