Yesterday Joe Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the historic and elegant Filoli estate in Woodside, CA, about 8 miles northwest of the Stanford University campus. The median price of homes in Woodside is over $5 million and it is littered with the homes of Silicon Valley big shots. On the drive to the estate, Xi got a good look at how Americans live. Did Biden pick this location to impress Xi with how rich his country is? He's not saying.
Biden and Xi have met many times before, so this was not a get-to-know-you meeting. Nevertheless, Biden is a strong believer in face-to-face talks between leaders, not an exchange of memos written by staffers. The last time Biden and Xi met was at an international gathering in Indonesia in Nov. 2022. What Biden wants to get out of the current meeting is to prevent the increasingly bitter economic competition between the two countries from turning into a shooting war that would soon morph into WW III. Part of that will be to establish lines of communication between the two countries' militaries (e.g., so Gen. Charles Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, can pick up a phone and instantly get his Chinese counterpart on the line to resolve problems before any shooting happens). Also on Biden's agenda is an agreement to prevent any AI software from getting anywhere near the nuclear command and control system. He doesn't want WW III to start because some AI bot was predicting China was about to attack the U.S.
Xi didn't get to the top in China without being a savvy politician. When Biden said to him: "To host you in the United States is a great honor and a pleasure," Xi replied "I firmly believe in the promising future of the bilateral relationship."
Once the cameras went away and Biden and Xi started talking pre-Thanksgiving turkey, it could have been less cordial. Flashpoints include Taiwan, Gaza, China supplying weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, China building islands in the South China Sea, and of course, trade. One area where agreement may be possible eventually is on climate change. Pollution from burning coal is horrible in many Chinese cities, so both Xi and Biden have an interest in dealing with climate change and encouraging the use of renewable energy sources.
Quite a few folks on both sides were present. This was not like Donald Trump's one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, with only the translators present and no one else.
It is hard to see how anything substantial could be worked out in such a large meeting. On the other hand, no one really expects any major breakthroughs from it. Still, even if the only achievements are technical in nature (e.g., the hotline and no AI-initiated nuclear wars), the meeting could be the first step toward easing tensions and possibly some concrete measures at a future (and smaller) meeting. (V)