Biden, Xi seek to avoid conflict as US, Chinese presidents meet in person for first time in years

And though the meeting is the first time Xi and Biden have met as presidents, the pair have an unusually long history together.

By Biden’s estimation, he spent 67 hours as vice president in person with Xi including on a 2011 trip to China aimed at better understanding China’s then-leader-in-waiting, and a 2017 meeting in the final days of Barack Obama’s administration.

Since entering the White House, Biden has spoken virtually five times with Xi but told him Monday there was “no substitute” for face-to-face discussions.

ABSENT PUTIN

Though he is engaging Xi, Biden has refused since the invasion of Ukraine to deal directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is conspicuously absent from the Bali summit.

The Kremlin cited scheduling issues and has instead sent longtime foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who arrived on Sunday evening.

Lavrov, 72, denied reports that he was receiving treatment at a Bali hospital, telling Tass news agency that he was in his hotel preparing for the summit. The top diplomat underwent brief health checks on Sunday and Monday, according to an Indonesian health ministry official.

Lavrov’s presence has thrown into question a customary G20 group photo and joint statement, with Russia sure to reject any explicit calls to end its invasion of Ukraine.

Western leaders hope the G20 summit will step up pressure on Russia to renew a UN-backed deal expiring Saturday to allow grain shipments from Ukraine, a major food exporter to the developing world.

China, despite rhetorical support for Russia, has not supplied weapons for the war in Ukraine, with Moscow obliged to rely on Iran and North Korea, according to US officials.

“I think there is undeniably some discomfort in Beijing about what we’ve seen in terms of reckless rhetoric and activity on the part of Russia,” a US official said hours before the Xi-Biden talks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy – invited as a compromise with host Indonesia – will address the summit by video conference, a day after a triumphant visit to Kherson, a key city taken back from Russian forces.