Military Cooperation, Fentanyl, Taiwan: Hits & Misses from the Biden-Xi Meeting

Despite the progress the two leaders supposedly made, Biden's comments goes to show how tense relations still are.

3 min read

On Wednesday, 15 November, United States President Joe Biden emerged confident, following four-hour-long talks with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping in a mansion on the outskirts of San Francisco, that currently fraught ties between the two countries are improving.

In the first conversation between the two in almost a year, Biden and Xi discussed critical issues that ranged from military conflicts to drug trafficking. Moreover, the meeting, which took place at the Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside, California, came just before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Biden mentioned that their meeting included “some of the most constructive and productive discussions" the leaders have had. He said that the two leaders will “keep the lines of communication open" and added that Xi is “willing to pick up the phone."

The meeting included agreements to limit narcotic trafficking, curbing fentanyl production, restoring military lines of communication, and engagements in talks over the global risks of artificial intelligence. However, there was no movement on the fate of Taiwan, which Xi reportedly told Biden is “the biggest, most potentially dangerous issue in US-China relations," The Guardian reported.

However, despite the progress the two leaders supposedly made, Joe Biden's comment calling Xi a "dictator" only goes to show how tense the relations still are.

Here are the top highlights from the talks:


Taiwan: Xi and Biden held "substantial" talks over Taiwan, with the former assuring that China had no plans for military action against Taiwan in the coming future. However, Xi reportedly laid out conditions where the use of force could be utilised.

Biden's response was to reiterate the US' position to maintain peace and stability. He further asked Xi to respect Taiwan's electoral processes, a senior US official told reporters.

“President Xi responded: Look, peace is all well and good, but at some point we need to move towards resolution more generally,” the official added.

Military Diplomacy: While China severed military-to-military communications with the US in August 2022 after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, Biden said that the two leaders agreed to resume military contact.

According to reports, the US President made an explicit request to institutionalise military dialogue and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin will meet his Chinese counterpart to establish a consistent channel for military communication.

Fentanyl: According to a Reuters report, Biden and Xi agreed to cooperate on addressing the source of fentanyl, an opioid which is the leading cause of drug overdose in the US. With the agreement, China is set to go after specific companies that produce the precursors of fentanyl.

The West Asian Conflict: The two leaders also held talks over the conflict in Israel and Gaza, with one US official telling reporters that Biden asked China to use its influence over Iran to urge it not to take provocative steps that may add to the conflict.

Biden also reportedly pressed Xi to continue to withhold Chinese military support towards Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

However, it remained unclear as to how seriously Iran would take China's messages. Importantly. Biden made clear to his Chinese counterpart that he views Hamas as separate from the Palestinians.

Artificial Intelligence: The leaders also delved into the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and concurred on the significant risks associated with its application in military or nuclear operations.

According to a senior US official, both parties are deeply engaged in addressing the potential hazards and destabilizing aspects of AI practices. However, they aren't prepared for a mutual declaration at this point.

Biden said that both the US and China will engage more on the subject of Artificial Intelligence and added, “We’re going to get our experts together and discuss risk and safety issues."

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