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Biden and Xi Hold Virtual Summit Amid Taiwan Tensions

Expectations have been kept low before today’s meeting, which is likely to discuss “guardrails” for the U.S.-China relationship.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a virtual event hosted by the Munich Security Conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 19. Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet virtually, Cuba holds rare protests, and the world this week.

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Xi and Biden to Hold Virtual Talks

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet virtually, Cuba holds rare protests, and the world this week.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Xi and Biden to Hold Virtual Talks

No one likes an end-of-day Zoom meeting, especially not with your biggest rival, but that’s essentially what U.S. President Joe Biden must take on today as he holds a virtual bilateral meeting (neither side wishes to call it a summit) with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, this evening Washington time.

Although their subordinates have kept busy contacting one another, this will be only the third time the leaders of the world’s largest economies have spoken directly since Biden took office in January. Their first phone call lasted two hours, and today’s on-camera meeting is likely to challenge that time frame, with a senior administration official telling reporters on Sunday to expect the meeting to last “several hours.”

Although there is plenty to discuss, from trade to nuclear weapons, a curtain call between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday indicated Taiwan will loom largest. Since the last time the leaders spoke, China has flown a record number of warplanes close to Taiwan’s airspace, and it has emerged that U.S. military trainers have been secretly working with Taiwanese forces for at least a year to shore up the island’s defenses.

The climate “oasis.” Although urgent geopolitical concerns are likely to dominate today’s discussions, the fate of the world when the two men are long dead looks slightly rosier after last week. Climate envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua issued a surprise joint statement indicating little concrete efforts other than offering hope that, despite China’s admonishments about making climate policy an “oasis,” the two countries may be able to navigate a path to avoiding a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.

Domestic contrasts. The two leaders come to the meeting facing vastly different domestic landscapes. Public approval of Biden’s presidency is at its lowest yet, according to recent polls, piling on more pressure to deliver something worth driving voters to the polls in next year’s midterm elections. Xi, by contrast, has been lifted into the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party pantheon following last week’s meeting of the Central Committee. While Biden stares down the possibility of a one-term presidency, Xi can look forward to a rare third term in charge.

The expert view. FP colleague Amy Mackinnon asked several U.S.-China experts for their assessment of the upcoming meeting. In short, no one is expecting much ground to shift once today’s call ends, but any sign of goodwill is an improvement from the last few months.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visits Lebanon.

European Union defense ministers meet in Brussels.

On Wednesday, Nov. 17, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman hosts her South Korean counterpart, Choi Jong-kun, and Japanese counterpart, Takeo Mori, for three-way talks in Washington.

On Thursday, Nov. 18, Turkey and Indonesia’s central banks announce interest rate decisions.

On Friday, Nov. 19, British Brexit Minister David Frost meets with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic for discussions surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement.

EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell hosts U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Samantha Power in Brussels.

On Sunday, Nov. 21, Chile holds its presidential election. The vote comes as Chilean President Sebastián Piñera faces impeachment proceedings after he was implicated in the Pandora Papers.

Venezuela holds local and regional elections.

What We’re Following Today

COP26 wrapped. The U.N. climate change conference, known as COP26, ended on Saturday, 24 hours later than scheduled, as member countries issued a joint statement that suffered beyond-the-last-minute compromises. High-profile changes to the final document, now known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, included an agreement to phase “down” coal consumption rather than an initial draft to phase it out after an intervention from India. The nonbinding agreement does add momentum to further global climate negotiations, however, with countries now expected to update their 2030 carbon reduction pledges by next year’s COP27 summit in Egypt rather than a previous target of 2025.

Argentina’s election. Preliminary results from Argentina’s Sunday midterm elections appeared to bring bad news for Argentinian President Alberto Fernández, as his Frente de Todos party looks likely to lose its Senate majority, further eroding its minority share of seats in the lower house. The vote marks a comeback for former Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, as his Together for Change coalition appears to have defeated Frente de Todos in key constituencies around the capital, Buenos Aires.

Cuba’s protests. Blinken warned Cuba’s government against taking repressive measures ahead of protests expected to take place today on the island. It’s not clear how many Cubans will join the protests, which coincide with quarantine rules lifting and children returning to school.

Keep an Eye On

Biden’s cabinet abroad. Blinken travels to Africa for the first time during the Biden presidency with a weeklong trip beginning in Kenya. Blinken then travels to Nigeria and Senegal. As well as meeting with his ministerial-level counterparts, Blinken will also meet with the president of each country. As FP’s Robbie Gramer reported last week, although the trip skirts Ethiopia and Sudan, the two countries are expected to figure heavily in discussions on a trip described by U.S. officials as one focused on “revitalizing democracies.”

Blinken is not the only Biden administration official taking part in high-level travel. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield heads to Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan with stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman, respectively. Her visit to Israel is the first by a Biden cabinet member since a new government took charge in June.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai heads to Japan, South Korea, and India, beginning with Tokyo before heading to Seoul on Nov. 18 and New Delhi on Nov. 22.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also travels to Tokyo before heading to Singapore and Malaysia later in the week.

FP Live

Join FP’s Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer this Thursday at 11 a.m. ET for a look at the U.S. response to rolling crises around the world—and how this fits with Biden’s plans for a proactive foreign-policy agenda. Subscribers can register here.

Odds and Ends

If French President Emmanuel Macron decides to wrap himself in the French flag in the runup to France’s presidential elections next year, the colors are more likely to match his suit. The president has decided to embrace a retro tweak of the French flag, reverting to navy blue instead of the lighter shade conventionally associated with France.

Although Macron is reportedly invoking the French revolution with his change in tone, the decision reverses only a relatively recent decision by former French President Valéry Giscard dEstaing in 1978.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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