November 26, 2022

Joe Biden with Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on August 18, 2011. (Nelson Ching/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

When Joe Biden and Xi Jinping first met more than a decade ago, the US and China, despite their differences, had been close for three decades.

“The trajectory of the relationship has been consistently positive and is overwhelmingly in the mutual interest of our two countries,” Biden said in 2011, while serving as vice president in Beijing to establish a personal relationship with China’s then-leader.

Sitting next to Xi in a Beijing hotel, Biden told a room of Chinese and American business leaders of his “great optimism for the next 30 years” for the bilateral relationship and praised Xi for being “straightforward.”

“Only friends and peers can serve one another by being direct and honest with them,” he said.

During this familiarization trip to China in 2011, the two heads of state shared a marathon of meetings and meals in Beijing and the southwestern city of Chengdu. They also took a trip deep into the green mountains of Sichuan province to visit a rural high school rebuilt after a deadly earthquake.

The next year, Xi paid a return visit to the US at the invitation of Biden, who invited his Chinese counterpart to dinner at his residence after a series of meetings at the White House, State Department and Pentagon. Biden also flew to Los Angeles to meet Xi on the final leg of his trip.

Rapport continued: Their face-to-face encounters continued after Xi took power in 2012 – Biden has claimed that as vice president he spent more than 70 hours with Xi and traveled 17,000 miles with him across China and the United States – both exaggerations, but still reflects a relationship that is now perhaps the most important on the planet.

The last time they met in person was in 2015, during Xi’s first state visit to the US as China’s supreme leader while Biden was still vice president.

Shifting Relationships: But as relations between their countries soured, the once-friendly dynamic between the two leaders has also shifted.

Xi is an ideological hardliner who believes in China’s return to the center of the world stage and is skeptical – some would say hostile – about America. Biden, meanwhile, has grown weary of China’s authoritarian turn under Xi and has portrayed the rivalry between the two countries as a struggle between autocracy and democracy.

Last summer, Biden publicly resisted being called Xi’s “old friend.”

“Let’s get something straight. We know each other well; we’re not old friends. It’s just straight business,” he said at the time.

Read more about the Biden-Xi relationship here.