Biden to set 'guardrails' in Xi superpower summit

US President Joe Biden meets China's Xi Jinping in Bali on Monday hoping to set "guardrails" for relations between the world's two largest economies as they vie for international primacy.

The US-China superpower sitdown, on the sidelines of the G20 summit, will be the first face-to-face between the pair since Biden took office.

Xi arrived in Bali on Monday afternoon, on only his second overseas trip since the pandemic, after a visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in September.

Rivalry between the world's top two economies has intensified sharply as Beijing has become more powerful and more assertive about replacing the US-led order that has prevailed since World War II.

Biden has said the meeting should establish each country's "red lines", and the overarching goal will be setting "guardrails" and "clear rules of the road", a senior White House official told reporters hours before the summit.

"We do all of that to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict."

Biden is expected to push China to rein in ally North Korea after a record-breaking spate of missile tests raised fears Pyongyang will soon carry out its seventh nuclear test.

Xi and Biden have spoken by videoconference five times since the US leader took office but the Chinese president's last in-person US summit was with Donald Trump in 2019.

He arrives buoyed by securing a landmark third term in office, cementing him as the most powerful Chinese leader for generations.

Biden meanwhile has been bolstered by his Democratic Party's better-than-expected showing in midterm elections in which they retained control of the US Senate, although he remains vulnerable in domestic politics.

Biden won't be the only leader meeting Xi, with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese slated to hold talks Tuesday that will be the first formal sitdown between leaders of the two countries since 2017.

"There are no preconditions on this discussion. I am looking forward to having constructive dialogue," he told reporters on arrival in Bali Monday.

- Putin staying away -

The G20 summit opens on Tuesday and comes with food and fuel prices spiking worldwide, Ukraine mired in conflict and the renewed threat of nuclear war casting a menacing pall.

There will be one conspicuous absence around the table -- Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His nine-month-old invasion of Ukraine has made the trip to Bali logistically difficult and politically fraught, and Putin has instead elected to send veteran foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Officially, neither the war in Ukraine, nor Putin's dark threats to use nuclear weapons are on the summit agenda.

But while the ex-KGB man will not be at the summit table, his war will certainly be on the menu.

Soaring energy and food prices have hit richer and poorer G20 members alike –- and both are directly fuelled by the conflict.

On Monday, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said an end to the conflict was "a moral imperative and the single best thing we can do for the global economy".

Russia will be under pressure to extend a deal allowing Ukrainian grain and fertiliser shipments through the Black Sea when the current agreement expires on November 19.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will urge the agreement be renewed and call for "a G20-wide commitment never to weaponise food production and distribution," Downing Street said.

- 'Never been this complex' -

At a minimum, Biden and his allies would also like to see the G20 make it clear to Putin that nuclear war is unacceptable.

But a clear statement on the issue from the grouping is likely to be blocked by a mixture of Russian opposition and Chinese unwillingness to break ranks with its ally in Moscow or give Washington a win.

The G20 has always been more comfortable discussing finance and economics than security and Moscow would like it to stay that way.

"We categorically reject the politicisation of the G20," the Russian foreign ministry said Sunday, offering a taste of what leaders might hear from the famously unbending Lavrov.

G20 ministerial meetings leading to the summit have failed to agree a final joint communique and Indonesian officials said Monday it remained a "work in progress" and a "main goal" for the summit.

"Honestly, I think the global situation has never been this complex," Indonesian government minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said Sunday.

"If eventually (the G20) leaders do not produce a communique, that's that, it's OK."

sms-sah/arb/mtp