BALI, Indonesia — President Joe Biden said Monday he had told his Chinese counterpart Beijing was “obligated” to dissuade its neighbor North Korea from firing nuclear missiles and that the US would take unspecified “defensive action” should provocations continue .
At a news conference after a three-hour meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden did not specify how the US might respond to an expected nuclear test by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which would be the country’s first since 2017 and seventh overall. He added that any US retaliatory measures “would not be aimed at China but would send a clear message to North Korea: we will defend our allies and American soil and capabilities.”
Biden also said he doesn’t think rising tensions with China have evolved into a new “Cold War.”
“We will compete vigorously, but I do not seek conflict” with China, he said. “I want to run this competition responsibly. And I want to make sure every country abides by international road traffic rules.”
Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Xi since taking office lasted for months. It took place during a summit of the Group of 20, whose members make up about 80% of the world economy.
A recording of the meeting provided by the White House indicated that Biden and Xi were trying to find common ground. They agreed that the top US diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, will travel to China to build on the discussion.
Biden told Xi that he wants to work with China to improve public health, curb world hunger and limit global warming. Senior officials on both sides will communicate with each other to make progress on these and other issues, the US statement said.
Biden and Xi joined the meeting at a volatile moment in the world’s most consequential bilateral relationship. North Korea has ramped up missile tests – firing nearly two dozen in a single day this month – and the US believes China, the North’s largest trading partner, should use its influence to urge Kim to withdraw.
“We know that Beijing has influence over Pyongyang,” said a senior government official in the North Korean capital. “Beijing probably has more influence in Pyongyang than in any other capital city.”
Meanwhile, Chinese military exercises near Taiwan have raised concerns about a possible invasion of the self-governing island that China claims as part of its territory. China was outraged by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, which kickstarted a lengthy exercise.
“I don’t think there is an imminent attempt by China to invade Taiwan,” Biden said. “We want cross-strait issues to be resolved peacefully so that it never has to come to that. I’m convinced he is [Xi Jinping] understood exactly what I mean. I understood what he said.”
Biden’s dealings with Xi will require skillful diplomacy. He must be both tough and forgiving as he seeks to stop China from threatening Taiwan and bullying US allies in the region while gaining Xi’s cooperation in curbing North Korea’s nuclear program and limiting the impact of climate change.
To make the task even more difficult, Americans largely have a gloomy view of China, meaning there is little room for him to placate Beijing. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of American adults have viewed China in an unfavorable light over the past two years.
At the start of the talks, Biden and Xi greeted each other warmly. They met around 5:40 p.m. local time (4:40 a.m. ET) in front of a row of US and Chinese flags. Biden walked toward Xi with his right hand outstretched, and when they trembled, he clasped Xi’s hand with his left.
“Nice to see you,” said Biden, who has met with Xi many times when both were vice presidents of their countries. They then turned and faced the cameras for a photo before walking into the briefing room and taking their seats at long, rectangular tables that faced each other about 12 feet apart. Each leader was flanked by nine helpers. On the Chinese side, Xi’s deputies wore masks imprinted with the country’s red flag.
The mood was tense. In brief opening comments, Xi pointed to the marked differences between the world’s two largest powers.
He told Biden that the current state of US-China relations is not in the fundamental interest of the two countries, nor is it what the international community expects of us, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“As leaders of two great countries, we must take the lead, set the right course for China-US relations and set them on an upward trend,” he added.
As reporters were ushered out of the room, a television producer called and asked if Biden would raise the issue of human rights in China. A man from the Chinese side pulled the producer backwards, causing her to lose her balance. As she was shoved towards the door, White House officials stepped in and told her to leave her alone, according to a pool report of the incident.
Organizing the meeting required careful negotiation which, as a senior administration official had indicated, became contentious at times. In their last phone call in July, Biden and Xi agreed that they would instruct their staff to consider meeting in person. The two had spoken to each other virtually or by phone five times since Biden was sworn in.
“Both sides had an interest in this meeting taking place,” the official said.
A point each made in their opening remarks was that face-to-face diplomacy is essential with so much at stake.
“As you know, I’m committed to keeping lines of communication open between you and I personally, but our governments down the line, because both of our countries have — so much that we have the ability to handle it,” Biden said in his testimony .
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com