Biden recalls telling China’s Xi Jinping the US is about ‘possibilities’ before swearing in appointees

·3-min read

US President Joe Biden referenced a conversation with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, when both were vice-presidents, during one of his first official acts in his new role on Wednesday.

“I was asked a long time ago when I was with Xi Jinping, and I was on the Tibetan plateau with him,” Biden said as he was administering an oath of office – virtually – to nearly 1,000 of his appointees. Xi “asked me in a private dinner, he and I, and we each had an interpreter. He said can you define America for me, and I said yes and I meant it.

“I said I can do it in one word, one word: possibilities. We believe anything’s possible if we set our mind to it, unlike any other country in the world.”

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Biden was presumably referring to a trip the new US leader took to China in 2011, when he was deputy to then-president Barack Obama and Xi was China’s vice-president.

He did not connect the anecdote to any outstanding bilateral issues, nor did he reference any other countries or leaders in the 10-minute proceeding, in which he repeatedly emphasised to his team the importance of showing respect to everyone they engage with.

“There have been few moments in our history, in my view, when our nation has been more tested than we are now,” Biden said. “Few when public service will matter more … and history is going to measure us, and our fellow Americans will measure us, by how decent, honourable and smart we’ve been in terms of looking out for their interests.”

Biden’s reference to China’s leader in the form of a memory, and devoid of any negative comments about bilateral conflicts, marks a departure in tone following four years of escalating tensions between the administration of former president Donald Trump and Beijing.

Biden inauguration: new US president vows to unify a tense, divided nation

Trump had often praised Xi throughout his term, even calling Xi “a very, very good friend of mine” just a year ago, while signing a phase one trade agreement with Vice-Premier Liu He, but the compliments stopped and his tone towards China became much more derisive as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the US.

Economic damage caused by Covid-19 in the US intensified the Trump administration’s aggressive posture towards Beijing, with former secretary of state Mike Pompeo ordering sanctions against dozens of government officials in mainland China and Hong Kong.

Biden and Xi travelled together to China’s southwestern city of Chengdu and several locations near the city on the edge of the Tibetan plateau as part of the US vice-president’s visit to China, Mongolia and Japan.

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