Biden says he’s going into Xi meeting ‘stronger’ after Senate victory

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Eraldo Peres, Fi
This combination image shows U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, Nov. 6, 2021, and China’s President Xi Jinping in Brasília, Brazil, Nov. 13, 2019.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – President Joe Biden was triumphant on Sunday after Democrats cemented control of the Senate and said the result meant he was going into his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali on Monday “stronger.”

“I know I’m coming in stronger, but I don’t need that,” Biden said Sunday of his meeting with Xi, which is scheduled to take place one day before the beginning of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. “I know him well. He knows me. There’s no – we have very little misunderstanding. We just got to figure out where the red lines are and what we – what are the most important things to each of us going into the next two years. And his circumstance has changed, to state the obvious, at home.”

Biden made the remarks during his second day at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia, where the U.S. aim is to unite other nations as a counterweight to the rising economic and military threat China poses. He was approached several times throughout the day by foreign leaders who commented on Biden’s fresh domestic victories.

“It was interesting to see how closely all of the leaders from these different countries – including leaders from countries that are not themselves democracies – very closely follow American politics,” Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One as Biden traveled from Cambodia to Bali. “Right down to state races that they’re all quite familiar with, surprisingly.”

The president has used his swing through Egypt, Cambodia and Indonesia to assure global allies that the United States is a reliable partner, a task that became easier for Biden after a better-than-expected midterm showing. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) was projected to win reelection in Nevada on Saturday, a result that confirmed Democrats were on course to retain control of the chamber.

“I feel good. And I’m looking forward to the next couple of years,” Biden said. “I think it’s a reflection of the quality of our candidates.” He also touted how Democratic candidates were in line with one another and largely ran on the same agenda during their campaigns.

The Nevada Senate race was called hours before Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Biden met with each leader separately before another meeting with all three in the room. They were all planning to travel to the Group of 20 summit in Bali, with airplanes bearing flags from each country parked in tight succession at Phnom Penh International Airport.

Biden saw the meetings as a chance to discuss the escalating threats from North Korea, which has fired ballistic missiles in recent weeks, including one over Japan for the first time in five years, which prompted a rare order from Japanese officials for residents to take shelter.

In a joint appearance, Biden said North Korea had continued its “provocative” behavior toward the South, with Yoon saying: “At a time when South Koreans are grieving in deep sorrow, North Korea continues its provocations,” referring to the Halloween crowd crush in Seoul that killed 154 people last month.

Biden said they also discussed “how we can preserve peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” how to better support Ukraine, and how the three leaders can work toward a “common goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

White House aides also saw the meetings as a key moment to consult with Asian allies on the eve of his meeting with Xi.

“One thing that President Biden certainly wants to do with our closest allies is preview what he intends to do and also ask the leaders of the ROK and Japan, ‘What would you like me to raise? What do you want me to go in with?'” Sullivan said during a briefing on Saturday.

Experts said the unexpected midterm results – which also kept several election-denying Republicans out of key positions in swing states and in the Senate – was a much-needed assurance to U.S. allies.

“Many leaders took note of the midterms,” Sullivan said. “One theme that emerged over the course of two days was the theme about the strength of American democracy and what this election said about American democracy.”

Curtis S. Chin, a former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank and now chair of the Milken Institute Asia Center, said there was a sense of “relief.”

“Loss of control of the U.S. Senate by the president’s party might well have left Biden in an even weaker position in Asia when it comes to perceptions of his strength as a leader,” Chin said. “As it is, from a disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan under Biden to worsening relations with China, Russia and oil-rich nations in the Middle East, the foreign policy challenges facing Biden remain clear to Asian leaders.”

Chin added that the ASEAN region is home to almost 700 million people with a GDP of more than $3 trillion. “I’m hopeful that post-midterms and post-presidential visit, the U.S. will also focus on the benefits of strengthened economic ties with Asia, particularly Southeast Asia,” he said. “It remains time for a robust U.S. business pivot to Asia, especially Southeast Asia.”

Beyond enabling Biden to continue remaking the federal judiciary and confirming key appointees, control of the Senate also strengthened his hand heading into his first face-to-face meeting as president with Xi. White House officials noted that Xi respects strength, and Biden’s strong political showing at home – coupled with Russia’s retreat from the strategic Ukrainian city of Kherson, a humiliating defeat for President Vladimir Putin – would help elevate the United States in the eyes of China.

White House officials said ahead of the meeting that they did not expect Biden and Xi to make significant progress on key issues, but they described the meeting as an effort to maintain an open line of communication between the United States and China.

Biden touted his years-long relationship with Xi and repeated his assertion that he has spent more time with the Chinese premiere than any other world leader. “There’s never any miscalculation” between the two leaders, Biden said.

The meeting comes at a time of renewed strength for Xi, who secured an unprecedented third term last month and was anointed as China’s uncontested leader for five more years, if not many more. Xi has concentrated power to a degree not seen since the days of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping and has positioned his country firmly against the West.

The U.S.-China relationship is at one of its lowest points in decades. Biden’s national security strategy identified China as “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge,” noting that the president was particularly worried about the country’s efforts to “layer authoritarian governance with a revisionist foreign policy.”