China’s President Xi Jinping referred to President Biden as his “old friend” ahead of a highly anticipated virtual summit meeting Monday evening that followed months of tense diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Xi’s choice of words to describe his relationship with Biden contradicted the way both the president and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki have characterized their relationship. Biden has touted his rapport with Xi as an advantage during increasingly fraught diplomatic dealings between the US and China, even as he has disputed the idea they are friends.
“It’s the first time for us to meet virtually. Although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting, I’m very happy to see my old friend,” Xi said through a translator at the start of the meeting.
Biden has claimed on multiple occasions to have “traveled 17,000 miles” with Xi during his time as vice president in the Obama administration. But the president bristled during a June press conference when Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked if Biden would call Xi “old friend to old friend” to demand China’s cooperation with efforts to investigate the origins of COVID-19.
“Let’s get something straight: we know each other well, we’re not old friends,” Biden said. “It’s just pure business.”
Psaki reiterated that assertion just hours before the meeting, telling reporters during her daily press briefing that Biden “still does not consider him an old friend.”
The pleasant exchange preceded a meeting in which top Chinese and American officials were expected to discuss several sources of tensions. Relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated in recent months amid international disputes over Beijing’s aggressive stance toward self-ruled Taiwan, territorial disputes in the Indo-Pacific region, economic tensions, and public sparring over handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both Biden and Xi spoke of clear communication as the key to long-term diplomatic relations.
Biden called for the establishment of “common sense guardrails” to prevent disputes from escalating to conflict and for collaboration on climate change and other “vital global issues.”
“All countries need to play by the same rules of the road. It’s why the United States is always going to stand up for our interests and values and those of our allies and partners. 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 said.
Attendees of the summit meeting included members of Biden’s Cabinet, including Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, as well as Xi’s closest government advisers.