NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday for a long-awaited meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden ahead of a set to be perilous summit of the Group of 20 nations. With tension due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The two leaders are expected to discuss the nuclear ambitions of Taiwan, Ukraine and North Korea, issues that will also loom over the G20, which opens on Tuesday without Russian President Vladimir Putin in attendance.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent the Russian president at the G20 summit – the first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February – after the Kremlin said Putin was too busy to attend.
On the eve of Monday’s meeting with Xi, Biden told Asian leaders in Cambodia that US lines of communication with China would remain open to prevent conflict, with tough talks almost certain in the coming days. Arrived in Bali late on a Sunday.
Relations between the two superpowers have fallen to their lowest levels in decades, marred by rising tensions in recent years over a range of issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, and US trade practices and restrictions on Chinese technology.
But US officials said there have been quiet efforts by both Beijing and Washington over the past two months to mend ties.
“These meetings are not held in isolation, they are part of a very sustainable process,” said a Biden administration official. “We’ve been engaged in serious and sustained diplomacy – dozens and dozens of hours – of quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.
“I think we are satisfied with the seriousness that both sides have brought to this process.”
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters that the meeting was aimed at “stabilizing the relationship between the United States and China, and creating a more reassuring atmosphere for American businesses.”
She said Biden has been clear with China about national security concerns regarding restrictions on sensitive US technologies and has raised concerns about the reliability of Chinese supply chains for commodities such as metals.
Meeting in a luxury hotel
Biden and Xi, who have made five phone calls or video calls since Biden became president in January 2021, met in person during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.
The meeting will be face to face on Monday at The Mulia, a luxury beachfront hotel in Bali’s Nusa Dua Bay. The White House said it was unlikely to issue a joint statement.
The two leaders will attend the opening of the G20 summit on Tuesday.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, host of the summit, expressed the hope that the meeting could “offer concrete partnerships that can help the world in its economic recovery”.
However, US officials said last week that one of the main topics at the G-20 would be Russia’s war in Ukraine, and Biden would be “unapologetic” in his defense of the European country.
Binding on their mutual mistrust in the West, Xi and Putin have become increasingly close in recent years, reasserting their partnership just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. But China was careful not to provide any direct material support that could lead to Western sanctions against it.
A Biden administration official said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed the “irresponsibility” of nuclear threats during the summit in Cambodia, indicating that China is not comfortable with Russia’s strategic partner’s nuclear rhetoric.
The West has accused Russia of making irresponsible statements about the possible use of nuclear weapons since its invasion of Ukraine in February. Russia, in turn, accused the West of “provocative” nuclear rhetoric.
On Sunday, Lavrov said the West was “militarizing” Southeast Asia in a bid to contain Russian and Chinese interests, paving the way for further confrontation with Western leaders in the G20.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he will address the G20 meeting via video link on Tuesday.
A Downing Street spokesman said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was expected to meet Lavrov at the summit. A bilateral meeting with Biden is also likely.
His government said Sunak would call on the G20 to take coordinated action to tackle economic instability and the rising cost of living in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The G-20, which includes countries ranging from Brazil to India and Germany, accounts for more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 60% of its population.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was due to join Widodo to address the B20 Parallel Business Forum on Monday before the summit. Albanese said he would meet with Xi on Tuesday, which he described as a positive development after years of tension.
Billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and Twitter that they spoke in a business forum and said it had “a lot of work to do”.
Speaking via the video link, he appeared to be lit by candles, wearing a batik shirt sent by the organizers. He said he was speaking from a place that had just lost his strength.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Francis Nangwi, Lika Kihara, David Lauder and Simon Lewis in Nusa Dua; Writing by Kai Johnson and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Ed Davies and Robert Persell
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