Xi Jinping calls Joe Biden an ‘old friend’ at virtual summit

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Xi Jinping calls Joe Biden an 'old friend' at virtual summit

Chinese President Xi Jinping warmly greeted his “old friend” President Biden during a virtual summit Monday night after Biden opened the talks by mentioning climate change, but not a desire for transparency on COVID-19 origins.

“Although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting, I’m very happy to see my old friend,” the 68-year-old Communist leader told Biden.

“Humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together,” Xi said through a translator. “China and the US need to increase communication and cooperation.”

Biden, 78, kicked off the mutual adulation with a beaming smile toward Xi’s video stream in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room.

Biden, who frequently reminisces about his relationship with Xi while he was vice president from 2009-2017, told his authoritarian counterpart, “we spent an awful lot of time talking to each other” and “maybe I should start more formally even though you and I have never been that formal with one another.”

Biden said to Xi, “you’re a major world leader and so is the United States.”

“It seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended — just simple, straightforward competition,” he said.

President Joe Biden, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping
President Joe Biden, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“It seems to me we need to establish some common sense guardrails. be clear and honest where we disagree and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change.”

Biden added, “If past is prologue, I’m sure that today we’ll be discussing those areas where we have concerns, from human rights to economics to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Biden didn’t mention the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 762,000 Americans, at all during his opening remarks, which were the only part of the summit open to the public. The talks are expected to continue for several hours privately.

President Joe Biden, left, waves hello as he meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on screen
Chinese President Xi Jinping warmly greeted his “old friend” President Joe Biden.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

US spy agencies in August assessed that it’s “plausible” the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The other leading theory is that the virus emerged naturally from animals, but China has refused to cooperate with an independent international investigation.

Biden rarely presses fo COVID-19 transparency from China, but a written statement attributed to Biden in August said, “The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them. Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world. Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.”

Xi mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic in passing during his opening remarks, describing it as an area of potential cooperation with the US, along with global warming. He said the US and China should find “effective responses to global challenges such as climate change, which you have referenced, and the COVID pandemic.”

Joe Biden Xi Jinping virtual summit
President Biden did not bring up the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic during the virtual summit.
AFP via Getty Images

Neither man took questions from reporters. Biden has spoken twice privately on the phone with Xi since he took office — in February and again in September. But the virtual summit is the first such meeting and comes after Chinese diplomats used a March summit in Alaska to score propaganda points by accusing the US of hypocrisy on cyberattacks and human rights.

Biden convened the summit despite reports that his son Hunter Biden still owns a 10 percent stake in a Chinese investment firm that’s controlled by state-owned entities. The company, BHR Partners, was formed 12 days after Hunter Biden joined his father aboard Air Force Two for a 2013 trip to Beijing.

Biden said in December that members of his family would not hold any business role that conflicts with “or appears to be in conflict” with his job as president, but the White House has repeatedly said the first son is still working to “unwind” his Chinese holdings.

So far, Biden has kept many of former President Donald Trump’s policies toward China, including tariffs on Chinese goods and sanctions on Chinese officials for eliminating Hong Kong’s autonomy and for mistreating Uyghur Muslim minorities.

 

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