US President Joe Biden will meet China's President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit coming Monday in Bali, Indonesia and neither side is expecting any coolants to douse the fire of mutual distrust and anger.
Rather, cold reactions are expected considering the contentious issues the US is bound to raise -- Taiwan, human rights, and North Korea.
Amid renewed talks of a fresh cold war post-pandemic, Biden will come face-to-face with Xi for the first time since he became president.
Xi, on his part, will meet Biden after assuming power for the third time at last month's 20th party congress. That positive mood of Xi's is matched by Biden who managed to escape a rout in the US mid-term elections with the Republican Party failing to dominate the elections as expected and giving the Democrats a much-needed reprieve.
Biden flew out of the US on a confident note, hoping to impress upon XI that a long-fasting and refreshed relationship between the two countries is possible only by tackling contentious issues like human rights, democracy, and sovereignty.
The White House spokeswoman, Karine Jean-Pierre, said in a statement even as Biden was reading to fly out, "The leaders will discuss efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication," as well as how to "responsibly manage competition and work together where our interests align, especially on transnational challenges".
According to a US-based publication, Biden and Xi last met in person during the Obama administration, and US ties with China have since slumped to their lowest level in decades, most notably since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's August trip to Taiwan, the self-governed democratic island that Beijing claims as its territory.
"The two presidents have spoken by phone a number of times over the past 22 months", but the Covid pandemic and Xi's aversion to foreign travel have prevented them from meeting in person.
On Monday's meeting, a senior administration official said, "The president believes it is critical to build a floor for the relationship and ensure that there are rules of the road that bound our competition. I expect the president will be honest about a number of our concerns, including PRC (People's Republic of China) activity that threatens peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, as well as our longstanding concerns about human rights violations."
Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told The Guardian the meeting was an opportunity to dial down tensions, and China had been signalling that it wanted to avoid a further deterioration in relations.
"But it is unclear what they are willing to do to achieve that objective," she said. "The Biden administration has been pushing for talks on risk-reduction measures since mid-2021, and the PRC hasn't been interested."
Washington also wants Beijing to pressure the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to in talks on denuclearisation.
"This is an area where China and the United States have had a history of working together ... there is a track record of being able to work together. And so I think the president will approach the conversation in that spirit," a senior US administration official told reporters.
Biden's Asia tour begins with a stop in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt where the COP27 is meeting. The next stop is Phnom Penh, Cambodia, currently hosting the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Biden may assure the members about the American commitment to a rules-based order in the South China Sea though that may be unpalatable to the Chinese.
He then goes to Bali, Indonesia for the G20 meeting where he will meet Xi. The Foreign Policy reports, "Biden said he would avoid making concessions and wanted to draw "red lines" in the US-China relationship--perhaps in the hope of avoiding further deterioration.
Since entering office, the US president has taken a strong stance on Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory. Beijing responded with aggression in August when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei."
China has also bristled at US policies targeting its ambitions in the technology sector, particularly the semiconductor industry.
According to Foreign Policy, the "effort to crack down on Chinese technology has gained steam under the Biden administration. New US export controls on the equipment needed to make semiconductor chips "could set back China's tech ambitions by as much as a decade".