News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A preview of Biden's meeting with his Chinese counterpart in California


President Biden laid out a modest goal for a meeting with China's leader.


Xi Jinping is in the San Francisco Bay Area for a meeting of the leaders of many Pacific nations, and he plans a one-on-one with Biden. Relations between the world's two largest economies are now bad enough that Biden just wants to talk more.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To get back on a normal course of corresponding - being able to pick up the phone and talk to one another when there's a crisis, being able to make sure our militaries still have contact with one another.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith is going to have a front-row seat for the first part of that meeting today. She joins us now from San Francisco. Tam, it just seems like the goals bar for this meeting is low - just being able to talk on the phone. So what makes this meeting consequential?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, relations with China have been chilly. Biden and Xi haven't even spoken since last November. And it's been more than a year since China broke off military-to-military communications channels with U.S. officials. And American leaders are not making a secret of the fact that they really want to see those communications restored. That's one of the goals of this meeting. And it's important because the best way to prevent conflict is to talk. If there's understanding of what the other guys are doing, conflict is less likely.

For Biden, this is also an important meeting because it's a chance to demonstrate what his priorities are. Countering China has been at the top of his foreign policy agenda, but you wouldn't really know it because he's had to deal with all of these other issues - a land war in Europe, now the crisis in the Middle East. And he plans to talk to Xi about both of those global issues as well.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what else could actually come out of this meeting?

KEITH: We're expecting President Biden to hold a press conference later today, where he will announce what the two nations have agreed to. There have been a lot of conversations leading up to this, and there are signs that there could be some sort of agreement aimed at reducing the flow of the ingredients used to make the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters yesterday that he's optimistic that could happen. It's something that he raised with Xi last month during a visit to China.


CHUCK SCHUMER: I can't think of anything that would do more to stop fentanyl from coming into the United States than China stopping the flow of these precursor drugs, which, incidentally, are illegal in China, but they don't do anything to stop them.

KEITH: But a word of caution here. Back in 2018, I covered a meeting between Xi and then President Donald Trump. And the big outcome then was a commitment to reduce the flow of fentanyl. And yet, it is still a major problem, killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. So it's the sort of commitment from China where actions may be a lot louder than words.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, getting this meeting on the calendar just seemed like it was arduous. The process just took a while and very secretive. So, I mean, why was there so much suspense about this?

KEITH: Yeah, the details have been kept under very tight wraps. The White House has been unwilling to even say where the meeting is happening due to security concerns, but a source familiar told me that it will happen at a historic venue south of San Francisco. That's as far as they would go. Every detail has been carefully curated. This source tells me that all the logistics were choreographed, right down to what President Xi will see out of windows. And let's just say that the protest culture here in the Bay Area is alive and well, something that doesn't really exist in China, so it's not something that the Chinese president would be accustomed to seeing. He's also not used to reporters shouting questions, but we're going to do it anyway.

MARTÍNEZ: Absolutely. NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks a lot.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.