The White House and Chinese diplomats have meticulously planned the details of President Biden’s upcoming meeting with President Xi Jinping. However, compared to past U.S.-China summits, expectations for substantive agreements are minimal. The only concrete agreement expected to arise from the meeting is a potential resumption of military-to-military communications, which were suspended by China after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in 2022. Additionally, both sides are discussing the possibility of keeping artificial intelligence software out of their nuclear command and control systems. Despite these discussions, no joint statement is planned, and each government will provide its own account of the discussions.
In the past, U.S.-China summits resulted in agreements on various issues such as containing North Korea, preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, climate goals, economic coordination, and joint counterterrorism efforts. However, the current summit is not expected to yield significant changes in behavior. President Biden’s advisers have refrained from using terms like “guardrails” or “floor” to describe the relationship, instead emphasizing the need for old-fashioned diplomacy to manage competition responsibly.
Mr. Xi’s primary concern is the Biden administration’s efforts to counter China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region by building alliances and partnerships with countries such as the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. He aims to slow down or modify future U.S. actions, particularly in the technology space. Both leaders will also discuss the potential conflict over Taiwan, with U.S. officials signaling that China’s economic slowdown has bought some time. Chinese officials have been closely observing American political discord, as Republicans criticize Biden’s approach to China while ignoring the previous administration’s pursuit of trade deals.
During the summit, Mr. Biden is expected to address issues such as the wrongful detention of Americans, fentanyl production regulations, near collisions between Chinese and American ships and warplanes, and noninterference in the Taiwan election. The Biden administration has been relatively silent about how it plans to address China’s rapid nuclear buildup. The discussion on artificial intelligence may serve as an entry point for broader discussions on nuclear topics.
The leaders will also discuss the conflict in Gaza, with Mr. Biden stressing to Mr. Xi that an expanded war in the Middle East is not in China’s interests. The meeting will take place a year after their last meeting in Bali, Indonesia, where both leaders aimed for a warmer tone.
Overall, Biden’s advisers hope to demonstrate to China that the United States has staying power in the Indo-Pacific region and remains committed to its larger purpose. Additionally, Mr. Xi will use his time in California to showcase China’s openness for business to American industry leaders.