Biden and Xi agree to work together on climate crisis after thaw in US-China relations

President Joe Biden described his three-hour meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday as “open and candid” as the leaders of the world’s two largest polluters agreed to work together on some issues including the global climate crisis.

It’s the first time that the two leaders have come face-to-face in more than five years, although they have spoken on phone and video calls since Mr Biden became president. They shook hands ahead of the meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

“[T]he world expects, I believe, China and the United States to play key roles in addressing global challenges, from climate changes, to food insecurity, and to — for us to be able to work together,” Mr Biden said in remarks released ahead of the bilateral meeting.

At a press conference afterwards, Mr Biden said that both were clear on their intentions and priorities. While they would compete vigorously, they were not looking for conflict, the US president said.

The door also appeared open for resuming bilateral climate talks which paused this summer after Mr Biden and Mr Xi “agreed to empower key senior officials to maintain communication and deepen constructive efforts”.

Mr Biden has publicly criticized China since taking office over its clamp-down on democracy in Hong Kong, ramping up of military presence around Taiwan and silence on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US-China relationship has been particularly strained since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, angering Beijing which responded with a show of military power in the Taiwan Strait.

Talks on how to tackle the climate crisis were suspended, a significant blow in the run-up to Cop27 and particularly after the two countries made a joint declaration at Cop26 to accelerate emissions-cutting measures this decade.

But there were glimmers of optimism after US special climate envoy, John Kerry, confirmed last week that he had met a handful of times with China’s lead climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua. Mr Kerry described the interactions as “informal talks” but added that he stood “ready to negotiate”.

The second week of Cop2 is now underway. Negotiations will ramp up this week as countries work towards a final agreement on Friday (although there is a strong possibility that talks will run over).

Mr Biden made a flying visit to the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday where he touted his adminstration’s domestic achievements in cutting emissions and said the United States would meet its 2030 Paris Agreement targets. He also promised financial support to vulnerable countries facing devastating climate impacts.