Joe Biden has objected to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions” toward Taiwan and raised human rights concerns during his first in-person meeting with Xi Jinping since the US president took office, the White House said.
Biden and Xi met on Monday at a luxury resort hotel in Bali, Indonesia, where they are attending the G20 summit.
The meeting, which lasted more than three hours, was seen as an attempt to reduce tensions over Taiwan and trade that have sent US-China ties to their lowest level in decades.
In a statement, the White House said Biden told Xi that the US would “continue to compete vigorously” with China, but that “competition should not veer into conflict”.
The leaders also agreed that “a nuclear war should never be fought” and couldn’t be won, “and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine”.
They said they would “empower key senior officials” on areas of potential cooperation, including tackling the climate crisis, and maintaining global financial, health and food stability. It was not immediately clear whether that meant China would agree to restart climate change talks it had paused in protest at a controversial visit to Taiwan by the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in August.
China’s official summary said the talks were “thoroughgoing, frank and constructive”, adding that officials from both governments would build on areas of consensus between the two sides, and promote the return of China-US relations to a “stable track of development”.
Biden and Xi, who have known each other for more than a decade, greeted each other with a handshake in front of a row of Chinese and US flags. “It’s just great to see you,” Biden told Xi, as he put an arm around him.
“As the leaders of our two nations, we share responsibility, in my view, to show that China and the United States can manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything ever near conflict, and to find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” Biden said at the start of the meeting.
Xi called on the US president to “chart the right course” and “elevate the relationship” between China and the US, adding that he was ready for a “candid and in-depth exchange of views”.
Biden, however, brought up a number of difficult topics during the meeting, including raising objections to Chinese aggression towards Taiwan, as well as Beijing’s “non-market economic practices”, and its human rights record in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.
Reports said that a member of the Chinese delegation yanked and shoved a US journalist as she tried to ask about human rights at the start of the meeting.
When the journalist, a producer for a US TV network, asked Biden if he would raise human rights with Xi, an unidentified man from the Chinese delegation, wearing a Covid mask with a Chinese flag on it, pulled her backwards by her backpack, making her lose balance, according to Agence France-Presse.
He then started to push her towards the door before two White House staff members intervened, saying the producer should be left alone.
Biden had said ahead of the long-awaited talks that the US was not seeking a conflict with Beijing, but would press Washington’s commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan strait, according to senior White House officials.
The summit was the leaders’ first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in January 2021, and comes amid rising tensions over Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that China claims as its territory and has vowed to “reunify”, by force if necessary.
A White House official said before the meeting that Biden would lay out US priorities on China’s “provocative” military actions near Taiwan, adding that the main objective of the summit was to “reduce misunderstanding and misperceptions and put in place steps that we believe will establish the rules of the road”.
Increased cooperation will not necessarily lead to substantive progress on “thornier issues” such as Taiwan, the official said. The goal is to “find ways to communicate” on those tougher areas, “because the only thing worse than … having contentious conversations is not having conversations at all”.
China drew widespread criticism in August after it held military drills off the coast of Taiwan in an angry response to a Pelosi’s visit to the island. In September, Biden said US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, drawing another angry response from Beijing.
Relations between the superpowers have been marred by growing tensions over issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, coercive trade practices and US restrictions on Chinese technology.
Biden, buoyed by the military breakthrough in Ukraine and Democrat retention of the US Senate, said ahead of the summit that he and Xi would lay out “red lines” in the their relationship.
But they were not planning to discuss specifics, White House officials said, and were not due to release a joint statement. Biden was expected to speak to reporters after the meeting.
Monday’s meeting was the culmination of dozens of hours of discussions between US and Chinese officials over the past couple of months. Biden has held five phone and video calls with Xi since the beginning of 2021 – most recently in September – but Monday’s talks were their first in person since 2017, when Biden was vice-president to Barack Obama. The last US president Xi met in person was Donald Trump, in 2019.
Earlier on Monday, Biden announced investments in Indonesia following a summit with the country’s president, Joko Widodo. Describing Indonesia as a “critical partner”, Biden also said the two countries would collaborate to “protect our people” from Covid-19.
The investments span areas such as the climate emergency and food security, and include a $2.5bn carbon capture agreement between ExxonMobil and the Indonesian state-owned energy company Pertamina.
The partnership “will enable key industry sectors to decarbonise”, a White House statement said, adding that it would lower carbon emissions, ensure economic opportunities for Indonesian workers and help Indonesia achieve its net-zero ambitions in 2060 or sooner.
Agencies contributed reporting.