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Five key takeaways from Biden and Xi’s first meeting as leaders

Taiwan, trade, Ukraine, and the climate crisis were among issues discussed when the presidents of the US and China met

At the G20 summit in Bali, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held their first-ever face-to-meeting as leaders, in an attempt to reduce tensions over Taiwan and trade that have sent US-China ties to their lowest level in decades. Here are the five key takeaways:

Biden had a cold but Xi still shook his hand

China’s leader is notoriously Covid paranoid, but it did not stop him from shaking Biden’s hand despite the US leader having a mild cold. The close contact, as well as smiles for the cameras, illustrated that the two leaders intend to show they want a better working relationship.

In veiled criticism, Xi said bilateral relations failed to meet “the fundamental interests” of the two countries and the global expectations. However, he said the leaders of the two superpowers should act as a ship’s rudder and “chart the right course” and “elevate the relationship”.

Biden told China its Taiwan policy was ‘aggressive’ …

Despite the smiles, the US president brought up several contentious issues during the three-hour meeting, according to a White House readout.

The most thorny topic he raised was US objections to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions” towards Taiwan, which he said undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and jeopardised global prosperity.

Xi told Biden that the Taiwan question was at the “very core of China’s core interests” and the “first red line” in bilateral ties that must not be crossed.

China has blamed the US for initiating discord. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said last week: “The root cause of the tensions in the Taiwan Strait is that the Taiwan authorities have been soliciting US support to seek ‘Taiwan independence’.”

… but he kept to Washington’s longstanding stance on Taiwan

Biden reassured China that the US commitment to the “One China” policy had not changed, after the Chinese foreign ministry last week told the US to “stop fudging, distorting and hollowing out the One China principle” and insinuated that the US was attempting to contain China using the Taiwan issue as a pretext.

Climate cooperation might resume in some form

The leaders 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.”

However, it was not immediately clear if 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.

Moscow’s nuclear threats have worried Beijing and Washington

According to the US statement, the leaders also agreed that “a nuclear war should never be fought” and could not be won, “and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine”.

The comments come weeks after Vladimir Putin threatened nuclear retaliation in a serious escalation of the Ukraine war.

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