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Heading toward convergence: Why Biden-Xi Jinping talks matter and what Ukraine can expect

Heading toward convergence: Why Biden-Xi Jinping talks matter and what Ukraine can expect Xi Jinping and Joe Biden may meet on November 15 (photo: White House Facebook)

The main geopolitical event next week will take place far from Ukraine and the Gaza Strip – a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping is scheduled to occur in San Francisco. The material below covers the key issues of these negotiations, the relations between the two superpowers, and the meeting's impact on the Russian-Ukrainian war.

The information used to prepare this material includes publications by Politico, South China Morning Post, and The Telegraph, the column by Ryan Hass, the director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, as well as exclusive comments from Oleksandr Kraiev, an analyst at the "Ukrainian Prism" center, and political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko.

"It’s going to be a constructive meeting. The President’s looking forward to it," announced White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre regarding the meeting between Biden and Xi Jinping. It will take place on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, from November 11 to 17. It is likely to occur next week, on Wednesday 15.

The last year has been rich in events in U.S.-China relations. In November 2022, Biden and Xi met at the G20 summit in Indonesia.

At that time, the main goal was to reduce tension after the visit of then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. As a result, Biden announced the development of principles of competition, cautiously condemned human rights violations in China and emphasized the impossibility of a military scenario regarding Taiwan. Xi, in turn, assured that he had no ambitions to challenge the U.S., and expressed interest in stable relations, but identified the Taiwan issue as a red line.

However, the ice didn't melt quickly. An incident with a Chinese balloon detected in U.S. airspace disrupted Secretary of State Antony Blinken's planned trip in early 2023.

На зустрічних курсах. Чим важливі переговори Байдена з Сі Цзіньпіном і на що чекати Україні

Xi Jinping and Joe Biden will demonstrate the stabilization of relations (Photo: Getty Images)

But by mid-year, the White House decided to work on further improving relations. Since then, at least on the surface, things between the U.S. and China have stabilized. Several factors contributed to this, including the fact that both leaders see their interests in limiting tension and understand the risks of mutual suspicions, and ideological, political, and economic confrontation.

Starting in June, China hosted Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, other officials, and senators from both Democratic and Republican parties. The Chinese side took advantage of the opportunity to restore bilateral contacts and devoted the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the preparation of the high-level summit.

The personal meeting between Biden and Xi Jinping is important for both. Because both realize the advent of a new "cold war" and the need for a new world order.

"There is a hegemon - the United States. And there is a contender for hegemony in the form of the People's Republic of China. They understand that mutual suspicions, and ideological, political, and economic confrontation will only intensify, and threats will grow. And we see that, in principle, all regional conflicts are more or less tied to those supported by the United States against those supported by China," explained Oleksandr Kraiev.

Among the topics of the upcoming meeting in the West are trade, cybersecurity, technology, and the fentanyl issue. Concerns in America are rising due to the increasing number of deaths from drug overdoses, mostly linked to fentanyl - a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin. As Attorney General Merrick Garland stated, the global supply chain starts with chemical companies in China.

The leaders will almost certainly discuss the war in the Middle East, where Israel is clearing the Gaza Strip of Hamas. Especially considering that China is increasingly taking on the role of a global diplomat and maintaining strong ties with Iran, a key sponsor of terrorists in Palestinian territories.

Political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko sees three main blocks of issues in the negotiations. The first concerns Taiwan - here, the parties will try to balance the situation, adhering to their red lines. The second will touch on economic relations in the search for compromises to reduce the trade war and risks to global trade. The third will be dedicated to various international issues and regional conflicts.

"The Russia-Ukraine war will certainly be discussed, but it is far from the main theme of the meeting between Biden and Xi," he added in a conversation.

Ukraine is not a priority. However, Xi could be asked to press on Putin

In the context of the Russia-Ukraine war, Xi Jinping is considered the only one capable of influencing Vladimir Putin. But with a caveat – to influence in China's interests, not in American, and certainly not Ukrainian. Currently, he is comfortable talking about formal neutrality, expanding ties with Moscow, and increasing its economic dependence.

By the end of the year, trade between China and Russia may exceed $200 billion, setting another record. Military cooperation is also a cause for concern. Western media reports a triple increase in the export of military goods, a doubling of supplies of microchips for precision weapons, and a 400-fold increase in aluminum oxide for weapon production. Additionally, Chinese companies have supplied countless drones, optical sights, aviation components, and at least six helicopters.

На зустрічних курсах. Чим важливі переговори Байдена з Сі Цзіньпіном і на що чекати Україні

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have grown closer over the past year, and this worries Ukraine (Photo: Getty Images)

This year, Putin and Xi Jinping exchanged reciprocal visits. At the March meeting in the Kremlin, China's objective and unbiased position advocating for a resolution of the conflict based on the principles of the UN Charter and international law was positively evaluated. During the October forum in Beijing, both leaders discussed the One Belt, One Road initiative - a project aimed at uniting overland and maritime routes for the swift delivery of goods to Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East - as a tool of competition with the West.

In terms of foreign policy, China follows its interests, and Russia is its political partner and a source of cheap resources. The full-scale invasion of Ukraine has accelerated the transformation of Russia into a raw material appendage, supplying oil and gas at significant discounts. Despite sanctions, cooperation with the Russian defense continues, and dozens of companies have already faced restrictions from the U.S.

The so-called "peace initiatives" of China appear even more cynical. Initially, Beijing was limited to general phrases, but on the first anniversary of the large Russia-Ukraine war, it presented its vision of how to end the conflict. In the list of 12 points, the main emphasis was on respect for sovereignty and the rejection of the Cold War mentality. It was emphasized that the security of one country should not be ensured at the expense of others, providing clear support for the narrative of NATO's "treacherous" expansion.

Abstract points, such as the cessation of hostilities and the start of negotiations, made the peace plan toothless and uninteresting, as it did not address the withdrawal of occupying forces and the return of control over the borders of 1991. Accordingly, Ukraine did not seriously consider these proposals. Some hopes for China's role arose after its delegation participated in the summit on Volodymyr Zelenskyy's peace formula in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), but the last such meeting in Malta took place without a Chinese representative. Although, as they say in the Office of the President, the Chinese ambassador took part in the work on the formula.

Expecting a change in Chinese rhetoric after the meeting with Biden is not realistic.

"No breakthroughs will happen. China will once again call for a cessation of hostilities, while the U.S. will propose that China exert more pressure on Russia to stop the fighting. Additionally, the U.S., as before, will warn China against direct military assistance to Russia," commented Volodymyr Fesenko to RBC-Ukraine.

According to him, China has its perception of the war, and there should be no illusions that it will support Ukraine. Firstly, in his eyes, our country is an unconditional ally of the U.S., and secondly, China justifies the Russian invasion by claiming that the U.S. is expanding NATO to the east.

"The Americans understand well how China perceives this war, so the minimum task is for China to formally maintain neutrality and refrain from supplying weapons to Russia. Everything else is unrealistic. Although I assume that the Americans are not against further peaceful initiatives, especially toward Russia. And perhaps, they will call for the Chinese to return to negotiations with political advisers from the G7, Ukraine, and Global South countries," emphasized the political scientist.

In the summer, the media reported that Xi Jinping personally warned the Russian dictator against a nuclear strike on Ukraine. The West believes that this gives hope that China retains enough leverage to restrain Putin. At least when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Xi Jinping is strengthening China's geopolitical status

The restoration of contact between the U.S. and China brings predictability to their relationship. Both sides have established channels to address specific issues such as export control, commercial, and strategic problems. However, tension persists, and the frequency of communication has not led to convergence on disputed issues.

From this perspective, how Xi is hosted on American soil is crucial. The Chinese side wants to show its domestic audience that Biden respects the head of the People's Republic of China and that both leaders are engaging in friendly interaction. This can be achieved if they take a stroll together, have a meal, or talk face-to-face, according to Ryan Hass, the director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

На зустрічних курсах. Чим важливі переговори Байдена з Сі Цзіньпіном і на що чекати Україні

Xi Jinping in the USA needs to strengthen China's geopolitical status (Photo: Getty Images)

In his opinion, Xi will want to demonstrate the ability to control the situation, especially against the backdrop of a lack of trust within China due to economic weakening. Many in Beijing see his trip as crucial for recalibrating relations with American allies in Asia, Europe, and other countries.

Given the upcoming elections in Taiwan, the Chinese leader will likely try to influence the situation in his favor. He will demand assurances from Biden that the U.S. does not support any candidate or political party on the island. The U.S. President, in turn, must confirm adherence to the One China policy and emphasize the unacceptability of changing the status quo unilaterally.

Analyst Oleksandr Kraiev considers the main goal of the meeting to be the strengthening of global stability. The simple rule applies here: the more leaders talk, the less likely confrontation becomes. The parties intend to clarify what each is prepared for, and where compromise is possible or impossible, and for this, a personal meeting and mutual measures to build trust are necessary.

"Xi Jinping needs certainty because the Americans threaten him with sanctions if it turns out, for example, that China supports Russia at the official level, not just through private companies or North Korea. He needs confidence that he will continue to make money, have access to the American market, and so on," he said to RBC-Ukraine.

Finally, the meeting with Biden aligns with China's vision of a bipolar world, where two individuals and two countries solve all global problems. For Beijing, this is another demonstration of its geopolitical status, especially since recent initiatives for rapprochement have come from Washington.

Biden will remind that "America is back" before the elections

In the interests of the United States, progress needs to be made on its priorities. This includes reducing the flow of fentanyl, which has become a major cause of drug overdose deaths in Americans. The issue is that several Chinese companies have developed precursors not covered by the fentanyl ban since 2019. These substances freely enter Mexico and are then smuggled into the U.S. Effective action may require lifting sanctions against the Institute of Forensic Science of China's Ministry of Public Security.

Both countries are leaders in artificial intelligence and could benefit from establishing a channel for AI security. They also have great potential to address global issues. The U.S. and China have previously cooperated in responding to the global financial crisis and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The separate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, proved ineffective.

На зустрічних курсах. Чим важливі переговори Байдена з Сі Цзіньпіном і на що чекати Україні

Joe Biden will meet with the Chinese leader on the eve of the presidential campaign and will use the meeting to his advantage (Photo: Getty Images)

Moreover, the meeting is important in the context of the U.S. presidential campaign in 2024.

"Biden needs to show that America maintains geopolitical influence, aligning with his foreign policy doctrine of "America is back." That the U.S. remains a flagship of the democratic world and plays a decisive role in various conflicts, particularly in discussions with those claiming global leadership. For Biden, this is also part of the election campaign, as he belongs to the presidents for whom foreign policy is a significant asset," Kraiev explained.

Political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko doubts that the meeting will directly impact the U.S. elections, as the campaign will enter an active phase only next year. On the other hand, China understands that Biden is rational and inclined to dialogue, so it is crucial not to miss opportunities and try to reach agreements with him, as the chances of this decrease in the event of Donald Trump, known for his anti-Chinese sentiments, winning.


According to recent polls, 73% of Americans support negotiations with China, and nearly 80% want the U.S. to focus on preventing a military conflict. From this perspective, Biden relies on broad support for a tough, smart, and diplomatic approach to China. Similarly, Xi Jinping wins if he achieves results in recalibrating relations with the U.S.

Despite deep trade and economic ties, the countries are in a constant ideological and political confrontation, seeking allies to balance and define the contours of a new world order. Experts in a conversation with RBC-Ukraine do not expect any breakthroughs, including regarding the Russia-Ukraine war. The future meeting is more of an opportunity to formulate the rules of the game for the coming years.