Biden and Xi vow to restore military communications and make deals on fentanyl and AI

The two leaders last met a year ago at G20 summit in Indonesia

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at Filoli estate in Woodside, California. AP
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US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed on Wednesday to resume military-to-military communications and work to curb fentanyl production, two major outcomes from their first face-to-face talks in a year.

The two leaders met for about four hours on the outskirts of San Francisco, speaking on issues that have strained US-Chinese relations, and agreed to commit to closer communication.

The two governments said Mr Biden and Mr Xi had agreed to resume military contacts that China severed after then-House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August last year.

“We’re back to direct, open clear direct communication on a direct basis,” Mr Biden said. He added that miscalculations can cause major problems between countries.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen accompanied Mr Biden during the meeting, which took place at a secluded country estate outside of San Francisco.

China's Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi and Lan Fo'an, Minister of Finance, also attended.

Mr Biden and Mr Xi agreed that China would stem the export of items related to the production of the opioid fentanyl, a leading cause of drug overdoses in the US.

“It’s going to save lives and I appreciate President Xi’s commitment on this issue,” Mr Biden said.

Under the agreement, China will go directly after specific chemical companies that make fentanyl precursors, a senior US official told reporters.

The two leaders also agreed to get experts together to discuss the risks of artificial intelligence.

Mr Biden has made regulating AI a focus of his administration, signing an executive order last month that has asked federal agencies to set standards for safety and security. It also requires developers to safety-test new models before releasing them to the public.

The US President ascribed the success of Wednesday's meeting to “just talking, just being blunt with one another so there’s no misunderstanding”.

Despite a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent months, relations between the US and China have been strained.

Earlier this year, the US shot down what it described as a spy balloon belonging to China. This was followed by Ms Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

It was the leaders' first in-person meeting since the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last year.

Last week, the White House said the leaders of the two global superpowers would discuss finding ways to work together to “responsibly manage competition”.

China, a major buyer of Iranian oil, has significant leverage over Iran – a backer of Hamas.

Amid US concerns that the Israel-Gaza war could widen into a regional conflict, Mr Biden views China as critical to helping ensure that Tehran does not fully get involved.

“President Biden, in the smaller sessions, made clear our concerns … explained our desire for China to weigh in with Iran to avoid steps to would be seen as provocative or escalatory, more generally,” according to the US official.

Updated: November 16, 2023, 7:15 AM